For one round at least, Rory McIlroy finally played the sort of golf expected from him in a major when he opened the season with a blistering hot start.
McIlroy shot an opening round 5-under 67 at the PGA Championship on Thursday. He tied with three other golfers for second place and is just a stroke behind leader Carl Pettersson. Starting off so strong is good news for McIlroy because it is completely opposite of what he did at the other three majors in 2012.
McIlroy fell victim to erratic play in the early rounds at the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. His finishes in those three majors reflected the damage inflicted by bad starts. McIlroy finished in a tie for 40th place at Augusta, a tie for 60th place at the British Open and missed the cut altogether at the U.S. Open.
Seeing McIlroy flounder so badly seemed strange for the reason that he looked so unbeatable in the months leading up to the Masters. It became clear he lost some mental focus as the season wore on. This showed up in the form of multiple bad shots leading to a stream of bogeys that took him out of contention in the biggest tournaments.
McIlroy looked like a player on Thursday who had made several mental and technical adjustments to reclaim the form that made him a virtual lock for a top 10 finish earlier in the year. He played a clean round of golf during his first day on Kiawah Island. McIlroy did not card a single bogey on the front nine or the back nine. His shots were solid and steady and it yielded favorable results.
The roots of his strong start at the 2012 PGA Championship were planted a week earlier when McIlroy finished in a tie for fifth place at the Bridgestone Invitational
It helped that Kiawah Island offered up favorable playing conditions after rain earlier in the week softened the course. McIlroy was not the only one to take advantage for a strong opening round. 44 golfers shot under par in the first round and a host of other notables - including Keegan Bradley, Geoff Ogilvy Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott and Tiger Woods - are within striking distance of climbing atop the leaderboard on Friday.
McIlroy still has plenty of work to do if he wants to prove this performance isn't a first round fluke. The good news is he is finally in a promising position to contend for his second major title. It is the sort of performance golf fans had been expecting to see from McIlroy back when he was the no. 1 ranked golfer in the world.
For a change, he is finally showing why he was so highly regarded in the early months of the 2012 PGA season.
John Coon enjoys getting in a round from time to time in the Salt Lake City area when he is not covering golf as a freelance sports reporter.
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