US Open: Rory McIlroy just two off the lead after good start at Pebble Beach
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 14/06/19 3:26am
Rory McIlroy got off to the "fast start" he wanted at the US Open as he recovered from an early mistake to card an impressive 68 in benign, early conditions at Pebble Beach.
Each of McIlroy's four major championship wins began with rounds in the mid-60s, and he was reminded of the importance of a strong first round by 1973 US Open winner Johnny Miller at the champions reunion dinner on Tuesday evening.
The 30-year-old teed off at the 10th and split the fairway with his drive, but he dumped his second in a greenside bunker and needed three more to get down before settling himself with a welcome birdie from 13 feet at the 13th.
McIlroy did well to scramble a par at 15 and a towering mid-iron to inside 10 feet at the 17th set up his second birdie of the day, and a clutch up-and-down for par at the 18th after a blocked drive into deep rough took him to the turn one under.
The 2011 champion followed a birdie at the second with another from long range on the next, although his bid for a hat-trick was foiled when he lipped out from 10 feet on the fourth green.
McIlroy was frustrated at not being able to take advantage of his third and final par-five at the sixth, where he settled for a par before missing another good chance at the next, although his putter bailed him out on the eighth as he holed from seven feet after his approach nestled down in the rough and left him a tough pitch.
But while the par putts were dropping for last week's runaway Canadian Open winner, another great chance for birdie was spurned on his final hole when he knocked another delightful iron to 10 feet, only for the putt to graze the edge of the cup.
McIlroy tapped in for a disappointing par to complete his best opening round in the majors this year, his three-under 68 leaving him just two shots adrift of early clubhouse leader, Rickie Fowler, and the Northern Irishman was "very pleased" with his round as he looks to make the cut in a US Open for this first time since 2015.
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"I think my first round average over the last three years of this tournament is 70.2, so I'm happy with this," he said. "It's my first round in the 60s at a US Open since Chambers Bay in 2015. But it was out there.
"Benign conditions, and it's a very soft start to a US Open, which is a good thing because you're completely in control of the golf course. They can do whatever they want with it from here. It's not as if you're starting with a course that's in the condition like a Sunday and then you get three days and it sort of starts to get away from you.
"If they want to dial it up and make it a little bit longer, they just don't have to put much water on it and we'll come out tomorrow and it will play a little bit trickier. From the scores I'm seeing, that's really what I expect for tomorrow.
"All this golf course needs is just a little tweak here and there, and it can play a lot more difficult. So while the conditions are this benign and the golf course is still sort of soft and slow, you need to take advantage of it, and thankfully I did that."
McIlroy also admitted his confidence was still flowing from his spectacular performance in Canada, where weekend rounds of 64 and 61 swept him to a seven-shot victory over a high-quality field.
"I think the comfort level in my game is still there," he added. "I saw really good shots last week, not maybe under pressure, but in a situation where I needed to hit good shots. And I was able to do that and that breeds confidence.
"So I think just confidence and comfort and that's sort of what I got from last week. I've felt really comfortable with my game all year. It feels good. Obviously I've won a couple of times and had some other really good performances. So, yeah, I'm feeling good."