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NASSAU, Bahamas – Rory McIlroy didn’t take long to get over his final-round downfall two weeks ago in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where he led by one shot with four holes to play but fell into a tie for sixth.
And he wasted no time getting over a disastrous double-bogey seven on the par-5 ninth in Thursday’s first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club, when he found water with his second shot and hit a poor fourth.
But McIlroy came home with a 5-under-par 31, the highlight being a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 14th, to sign for a 6-under 66. That gave him a share of the lead in the star-studded 20-man field, joined at the top by Daniel Berger and Abraham Ancer. A shot back were Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and Webb Simpson.
“It was nice to play the back nine the way I did and put myself back in the tournament,” McIlroy said.
Since the Ryder Cup in September, where Europe was routed by the U.S. and McIlroy was 1-3-0, he has said he’s turned the corner, taken more ownership of his swing and become a force in the game once again.
In his first start after leaving the Ryder Cup behind at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, McIlroy won the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, his second victory in 2021 and the 20th PGA Tour title in his career. Then he tied for sixth in Dubai and now sits atop the leaderboard through 18 holes in the Bahamas.
“I feel like I found something those few weeks between the Ryder Cup and CJ. CJ was a bonus, like that sort of came out of nowhere and gave me some confidence,” McIlroy said. “I had the lead going into the last day in Dubai, had the lead with four holes to go and got off to another good start here. The three starts since the Ryder Cup have been really good, I’ve shot some good scores, low scores.
“The game’s feeling a lot better and it’s just another chance to get into contention and feel that, you know, whatever it is you feel on Sunday when you’re trying to win a golf tournament. The more I can just get into that position and sort of have those experiences, the more comfortable I’m going to be going forward.”
Despite his recent stellar run of golf, there is one unfortunate issue: timing.
“It sucks,” McIlroy said. “I wish it was like the end of March.”
You see, after this week, McIlroy won’t play again until the third week of January, when he starts his 2022 campaign in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. But McIlroy is far from devastated, especially as he looks forward to spending Christmas with his family, including daughter, Poppy, who will be enjoying her second Christmas.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland warms up during the first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on December 02, 2021, in Nassau. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
“It’s been a long year and I’ve always enjoyed the holidays and I’ve enjoyed Christmastime, and especially this will be Poppy’s second Christmas and at least she’s at an age now where she sort of understands and that will be fun,” McIlroy said. “I want to be totally engaged in that and be present for that.
“Yeah, look, again, I wish it was a different time of the year the way I’m playing, but there’s no reason why I can’t pick up again in January and keep playing the way I’m playing. I’m still going to keep myself ticking over these next few weeks, I’m not going to completely shut the clubs away for a few weeks.
“Maybe two or three times a week I’ll get out there and play and practice, just maybe not take a complete break like I’ve done before because my game’s in good shape and I want to keep it there.”