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Rory McIlroy happier with score than game after opening 66 at PGA Championship

Rory McIlroy happier with score than game after opening 66 at PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A familiar scene has broken out at the PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy trying to chase down Xander Schauffele.

After Schauffele’s course-record 9-under 62 to start at Valhalla, McIlroy caught fire late in his round Thursday to cut into the deficit and keep alive his hopes of capturing his first major championship in a decade.

On Nos. 5-7 – his 14th, 15th and 16th holes of the day – McIlroy stuffed a wedge, chipped in and perfectly nipped a pitch shot to collect three straight birdies on his way to a 5-under 66.

2024 PGA Championship - Round One
2024 PGA Championship - Round One

Rory McIlroy clanks approach shot off flagstick in making birdie at PGA Championship

McIlroy nearly jarred his approach shot from the rough on his 10th hole of the day.

It was a sizzling end to what had been an otherwise scrappy round, with McIlroy hitting just 10 greens and ranking 135th off the tee. One of the lowlights came on 18, his ninth of the day, when he flared his tee shot into the water on the reachable par 5 and needed to scramble just to save par. He bounced back on the next hole with an approach that kissed off the flagstick and led to a birdie.

“I don’t really feel like I left many out there; I thought I got a lot out of my game today,” McIlroy said afterward. “Not really happy with how I played, but at least happy with the score.”

Inside the top 5 when he finished his day, McIlroy was once again staring up at the leaderboard at Schauffele, who sprinted out to another first-round lead. Last week, at the Wells Fargo Championship, Schauffele opened with 64 and had a four-shot lead at the halfway point, before McIlroy eventually caught him on the weekend for his fourth win at Quail Hollow.

It could take a similar effort again at Valhalla, especially with wet weather expected to move into the area over the next two days that could make a long, soft course even more scoreable.