Rory McIlroy grinds out impressive 1-under 71 at the Memorial

The golf world wasn't ready to sound the alarms just yet, but when Rory McIlroy trudged off the par-3 12th hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club with a quadruple-bogey 7 to go to 4-over through his first three holes, it seemed now was as good a time as ever to break the emergency glass and pull lever.

After missing consecutive cuts at The Players Championship and BMW PGA Championship, McIlroy appeared destined to miss another at the Memorial. It was time to move the warning level to DEFCON 1.

"After the last few weeks, I was just like, here we go again," McIlroy said after his round.

This was the point in the round where it could have gone one of two ways for McIlroy. He could grind out a number and break the streak of two-day work weeks. Or he could mail it in, head home, and listen to the whispers about why his game had taken a nose dive over the last month.

Luckily for McIlroy, he chose the former on Thursday, digging himself out out of an early hole (he went out in 3-over 39) with a chip-in eagle and a pair of birdies on the back nine to come home in 4-under 32 and post an incredibly impressive 1-under 71 to get within two of the lead with the afternoon wave on the course.

When you're 23 years old and already have a U.S. Open, five worldwide victories and time spent at No. 1 on your resume, enduring criticism comes with the territory. McIlroy has certainly had his fair share of it in recent weeks, as people started to question if he was spending too much time with girlfriend Carolina Wozniacki, and not enough time on his game.

"I think that is the way of life in anything if you're in the spotlight, you're in the public eye," McIlroy said. "If I'd have missed two cuts in a row a couple years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid, but nowadays it's a little different."

But if Thursday's round told us anything about McIlroy, it's that he has the moxie to shrug off the criticism and pull it together when everyone starts to question his direction.

We're only one round into the tournament, but McIlroy needed a round to silence the doubters ... for at least one day. He somehow pulled it together with a brilliant putting performance that allowed him to stay in the mix and hopefully make the weekend for the first time since the Wells Fargo Championship.

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