Friday, March 5, 2021

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Rory McIlroy shelves aggressive mindset for impressive start at Torrey Pines

SAN DIEGO – Rory McIlroy dialed back from his usual aggressive mindset to ensure an impressive start to his 2021 PGA TOUR campaign at the Farmers Insurance Open.

McIlroy posted a clinical 4-under 68 on the South Course at Torrey Pines – hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation on the way – on a day where the 2021 U.S. Open venue averaged 73.167.

It left the two-time FedExCup champion four shots behind leaders Patrick Reed and Alex Noren, however their 8-under 64s came on the North Course which averaged a much easier 69.449. McIlroy is one of just four players inside the top 31 on the leaderboard to have played the South Course on the opening day.

It was the 14th time in his TOUR career that McIlroy hit all but one green in regulation but the first time at Torrey Pines South. Incredibly, from 2010-2020, only 0.6% of players hit 17 or more greens on the South Course (21 of 3,414) – proof why the venue hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and why it will again this June.

“It’s sort of weird to say, but I almost have better performances with greens in reg when they’re smaller greens because you can just be very comfortable hitting to the middles of greens all the time and not feeling like you’re having to take on pins,” McIlroy explained.

“It stops me from being my aggressive self a little bit, which is sometimes a good thing.”

It was a particularly impressive show of patience considering McIlroy is coming off a third-place finish on the European Tour where he failed to close out a 54-hole lead. With birdies up for grabs in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy could only manage to shoot even par and fell five shots behind eventual winner Tyrrell Hatton.

It is now over 15 months since his last victory but rather than respond with aggression, he showed poise. The Northern Irishman has never hit all 18 greens in one round on the PGA TOUR with a greenside chip shot coming up short on the par-5 13th his only blemish on Thursday stopping him from the feat.

“That’s a goal for tomorrow,” he smiled after being told.

“I got off to a great start, 4 under through nine. A little disappointed I didn’t pick up a couple more on the way in, especially with the two par 5s … but anytime you shoot 68 on the South Course here you’ve got to be pretty happy.

“I’m really happy with how I drove the ball today, hit some good iron shots, and I think going from Bermuda greens last week in Abu Dhabi straight to poa here, it’s a bit of an adjustment. So, to get on those bent greens on the North tomorrow, I may find that a little easier.”

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