I need to find my groove - McIlroy
Consistent play key as Rory gets off to solid start in US
LIKE his new haircut, Rory McIlroy's one-under 69 in the opening round of the PGA Championship earned him mixed reviews.
McIlroy got his title defence off to a brilliant start with three birdies in his first four holes to charge up the leaderboard.
But the world number three could not maintain that momentum through a wobbly back nine that left him four shots behind co-leaders Jim Furyk and Masters champion Adam Scott.
"I got off to a fast start obviously," McIlroy told reporters. "I was three under through nine holes. I felt like I played really, really well on the front nine.
"Overall it was good, to shoot under par today was a solid way to get off to any major."
Struggling through a season that has had more downs than ups after switching his club brand to Nike in a lucrative deal reported to be worth $250 million, McIlroy arrived at Oak Hill sporting a new look, having chopped his mop-topped locks in favour of a more disciplined close-cropped coif.
After romping to victory by a record eight shots in last year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, McIlroy appeared determined to once again run away from the field as he picked up a birdie at the first, and two more at the third and fourth.
The sprint, however, turned into a stumble with the 24-year-old collecting more bogeys (four) than birdies (two) over his final 14 holes.
"I made a couple of bogeys on the back nine and that sort of halted the momentum," said McIlroy, who claimed the order of merit on both sides of the Atlantic last year. "It's not like there are guys that are so far ahead.
"You go and get off to a good start the next day, you are right there."
With just four top-10s in 12 PGA Tour starts this season, finding that type of consistency has been harder than settling on a new hairstyle for McIlroy.
"Consistency day-to-day or hole-to-hole, you focus on each and every shot and try not to think ahead too much or think about anything else," said McIlroy.
"Really, just focus on my shot, that's what I'm trying to do."
Darren Clarke, who lifted the Claret Jug at Sandwich in 2011 and was Ireland's leading scorer at the British Open in Muirfield last month, also shot 69.
By recovering from a numbing double blow in the shape of back-to-back bogeys on his opening two holes, Clarke, 44, showed the time he spent with mind guru Dr Bob Rotella this week certainly wasn't wasted.
Graeme McDowell also had a good opening round, shooting a level-par 70 to finish just one shot behind fellow Northerners McIlroy and Clarke.
And one shot further back was Clara man Shane Lowry, who although satisfied with his 71, felt he could do a lot better with his putting.
"To be honest, I'm playing well enough to contend but I feel like my putting let me down," sighed Lowry. "I've no confidence from 10 feet in. I'm quite anxious over them.
"I'm getting in my own way and missing them.
"What's annoying is that I'm not hitting good putts, so I'll go out this afternoon and myself and Dermot (Byrne, his long-serving caddie) will work on it. I might give Neil (Manchip, his coach) a call as well.
"Ah, I'm sure it'll be okay," added the 26-year-old. "My putting's always inconsistent but if I keep playing the way I am and start holing a few, there'll be no stopping me."
But it was a very different story for Dubliner Pádraig Harrington, who wasn't holding out any hope of making the cut after a desperately disappointing round of six-over 76.
"Tomorrow's a good practice round for me. That's it," said Harrington.
Paul McGinley fared even worse, carding a nightmare 78 to finish near the end of the leaderboard on eight over.