Rory McIlroy’s flawless 5-under 67 has him in contention at Kiawah

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Mother Nature took a break on Thursday morning. After hearing all week about how difficult the Ocean Course could play -- especially if the wind picked up -- Rory McIlroy strolled to the first tee on Thursday morning and noticed something was different about the Pete Dye layout.

There wasn't a breath of wind. In other words, the course had gifted McIlroy a morning of perfect scoring conditions -- something you rarely see at Kiawah Island.

"You know, hitting balls on the range this morning, there was completely no wind," McIlroy said. "It was flat calm and I really thought that I had to take advantage of the conditions. "

McIlroy made the most of his good fortune on his first hole of the day, after he piped a drive down the middle on the par-4 10th, hit his approach to 15 feet and calmly rolled in the birdie putt.

The hole seemed to set the tone for the kind of round we haven't seen over the last few months. Instead of struggling to get anything going, McIlroy looked calm, cool and collected, adding birdies on the 14th and 16th to get to 3-under through his first seven holes.

He would add two more over the last nine to post a bogey-free 5-under 67 that currently has him one shot behind first round leader Carl Pettersson. It's been a while since we've seen McIlroy have this much success at a major championship venue.

The last time he posted a bogey-free round at a major was the 2011 U.S. Open, and we all know how that tournament ended. McIlroy blew the doors off the rest to win by an incredible eight shots to win his first major championship.

A little over a year has passed since McIlroy's historic week at Congressional, but it feels like a lifetime ago due in large part to the way the 23-year-old has played in the majors this year, his best finish a tie for 40th at the Masters.

But ever since McIlroy changed up his practice routine, eschewing range grind sessions for more time on the course, he's looked like the golfer who earlier this year posted four top-5 finishes in his first four starts and moved to No. 1 in the world with a win at the Honda Classic.

"I was working very hard on technical stuff for the last few weeks, and then a slight mental adjustment, as well,'' McIlroy said. ''I felt like I was maybe hitting too many balls on the range. I just needed to go out there and play a bit more on the course and see shots.''

Without question, McIlroy saw every shot on Thursday and executed almost every one to perfection, missing just three greens in regulation and four fairways during the round. While he'd certainly love to add another 67 on Friday, McIlroy said he's doesn't expect the course to lay down the rest of the week.

"Yeah, I'm expecting this to be the best day of the week," McIlroy said. "I think everyone is.  So we know that there's going to be a bit of wind coming in and maybe a bit of bad weather.  It's just something that you're going to have to deal with and I'm just happy that I got off to a great start.  As I said, I have a great platform to go from."

Even if he doesn't get another day of perfect course conditions, McIlroy's game seems to be trending in the right direction at the moment -- and that's exactly what you want at a major championship.

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