The Players: Rory McIlroy enjoys the chance to attack TPC Sawgrass
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 14/03/19 8:17pm
Rory McIlroy insisted the move from May to March has significantly increased his chances of Players Championship success as he reflected on an opening 67.
His five-birdie round could have been a couple of shots better after he missed a short putt for birdie at 16 and lipped out for another at the ninth - his final hole - but McIlroy was delighted to keep a bogey off his card for only the second time at TPC Sawgrass.
After starting with a par at the 10th, McIlroy got up-and-down for birdies at 11 and 12 and he atoned for his short miss on the 16th with a nice two at 17 as playing partners Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar also birdied the iconic par-three.
An excellent bunker escape at the second led to another gain, and his aggressive approach paid off again at the fifth before an unlucky bounce off a sprinkler-head at the ninth left him facing a tough pitch-and-putt from the back of the green, which he was unable to convert.
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"I think the course over the last 10 years in May hasn't lent itself to aggressive play," said McIlroy, who has not finished lower than sixth in his first five starts of 2019. "It was all about position and irons off tees and really trying to plot your way around the golf course, where I hit drivers on holes today that I would never have hit driver the last few years.
"So just to be a little more aggressive, get a shorter club in your hand, and even when you are aggressive and you miss, it's a touch easier to get yourself back into position as the rough isn't as long or as gnarly. You're running into that pine straw and you still have some sort of a shot and some control of your ball.
"It lends itself to more aggressive play. I don't know if the course is easier or not, but because I think it's playing longer, it'll play longer for most of the guys, and I think it should all even out. But I definitely like the golf course the way it is in March.
"Today was just good solid play, hitting it well tee to green, and taking most of the opportunities I'm giving myself. I was efficient around the greens when I do miss them, so it was just a continuation of basically what I've tried to do all year.
"I'm comfortable in my game, I'm driving it pretty well and my iron play, for the most part, is pretty good. I'm doing everything well and I expect to be up there in terms of strokes gained off the tee.
"I'm back to where I feel like I belong there. I'm chipping away at some of the other areas that I maybe wasn't as strong at over the last couple years, and it's just a matter of doing that."