• McIlroy leads, Saffas make slow start

    Rory McIlroy
    Rory was quick out of the blocks

    Rory McIlroy flirted with a hole-in-one on a par-4, leading to an eagle that carried him to an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

    The par-4 was the same as the one Tiger Woods hit out of bounds with his first shot in Mexico.

    That’s about how their days went on Thursday.

    McIlroy, already off to a solid start on the back nine, hit a 2-iron on the 305-yard opening hole at Chapultepec Golf Club that landed on the front of the green and was rolling just left of the pin when it settled 6 feet away.

    Woods got the raucous Mexican introduction for his opening tee shot, a 5-wood that also landed on the green; the wrong green. The ball bounced hard off a temporary green to the left and beyond the out-of-bounds stake into the bushes.

    And then he nearly did it again, and ultimately had to get up-and-down from 60 feet away in a bunker to escape with double bogey. After a burst of birdies, he struggled to make much of the rest of the way and opened with a 71.

    ‘I pulled across it to try and cut it and hit it dead off the toe,’ Woods said. ‘Hit both of them dead off the toe.’

    McIlroy’s 2-iron was the signature shot in an exquisite start to this World Golf Championship. He was 6-under through an eight-hole stretch in the middle of the round, and a 20-foot birdie on No 8 toward the end of his round is what gave him the lead over Johnson, who played in the group behind.

    It was his second straight week with a 63.

    ‘I wouldn’t say it was easy,’ McIlroy said. ‘I hit a lot of good golf shots, but I left myself a lot of tap-ins for birdies. As 63s go, I shot 63 at Riviera last week, but this felt probably a little more stress-free.’

    He described his 2-iron as close to perfect, just how he envisioned it, a little cut to take off some distance in the thin air of Mexico City.

    The only blemish on his round came at the par-5 sixth, when he pulled his tee shot into the trees and looked as though he would have to punch out back to the fairway. Standing over the ball, McIlroy was looking up. He saw a gap between two trees with a number of tiny limbs, so even if he clipped one, his 8-iron should have been enough to give him a reasonable shot at the green.

    There was one limb that concerned him, which McIlroy described as ‘something a dog would pick up.’

    ‘The one branch it could not hit, it hit,’ he said. ‘It all levels out at the end of the day. I’m just in a good frame of mind, managing my game well, putting went good. And if you putt well, it takes pressure off the rest of your game. And that’s where it’s at.’

    Johnson won the WGC-Mexico Championship two years ago, part of three straight victories during the best stretch of golf he’s ever played. Johnson said he struggled with his swing at Pebble Beach and Riviera, and worked all week on the range in Mexico.

    ‘It’s starting to feel the way it did two years ago,’ he said.

    Justin Thomas, who lost in a playoff last year to Phil Mickelson, chipped in from 50 feet behind the green on No 15 for eagle and was at 66. He was tied with Matt Kuchar, who already won in Mexico once this season at the Mayakoba Classic.

    Jordan Spieth opened with a 75.

    Louis Oosthuizen and birthday boy Erik van Rooyen were one over par with Branden Grace just a shot better.

    Richard Sterne (-2) and George Coetzee (-4) were the only Saffas under par for the day.

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