Just over a month after finishing with a final-round 64 at Augusta National — including a brilliant
chip-in from a bunker on the 18th — to finish second and a couple of shots behind winner Scottie Scheffler, the Northern Irishman carded a five-under 65 to take a one-shot lead from Thursday’s early starters.
In an up-and-down 18 holes at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a run of four consecutive birdies for McIlroy on his opening nine holes helped propel him to the top of the leaderboard.
But after showing why he’s a four-time major winner, the 33-year-old had his struggles on the back-nine, two bogeys on his 15th and 17th holes dragged him back to the pack and tied at the top of the leaderboard with Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge.
However, like at the Masters, McIlroy’s round ended in a flourish.
He drained a birdie putt on his final hole of the day — the par four ninth hole — to move him one clear and cap off an excellent opening in Oklahoma.
McIlroy’s opening round 65 is his lowest opening round score in a major since the 2011 US Open at Congressional, according to the PGA Tour. According to the PGA Tour
, the last three times McIlroy has began a major with a score of 66 or better, he has won them — at the 2011 US Open, the 2014 Open and the 2014 PGA Championship.
McIlroy told the media afterwards that it was a “great start to the tournament” for him.
“I’ve been playing well coming in here. I’ve been carrying some good form,” he explained. “Obviously that took a lot from that last round at Augusta, played well up in D.C. at the Wells Fargo there, and played good in the practice rounds earlier this week.
“I think when your game is feeling like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world.
“I did that really well today. It was nice to get off to that good start and sorta keep it going. I feel like this course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to be, so I hit quite a lot of drivers out there and took advantage of my length and finished that off with some nice iron play and some nice putting.”
McIlroy was in a blockbuster group alongside Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.
Both of the American’s struggled though, with Spieth carding a two-over 72 and Woods finishing with a four-over 74.
For 15-times major winner Woods, it’s his second major since returning from a near 17-month layoff due to a serious leg injuries suffered in a car crash in February 2021.
Woods had said before
he began that he felt “a lot stronger” than he was at the Masters last month but seemed to struggle in the heat, hitting some wayward shots as he continues his comeback to full strength.
Woods said his “leg is not feeling as good” as he’d like it to be.
“We’ll start the recovery process and get after it tomorrow,” he explained.