The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland fired a one-over par 72 to share 33rd after 18 holes at Quail Hollow, the layout where McIlroy has twice won US PGA events.
But it might have been so much better had he not been stung for a bogey at the par-3 13th, a double bogey at the par-4 14th and missed a four-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th on hardened greens where putting was at a premium.
“The greens are as firm as I’ve ever seen, probably any greens at a PGA Championship” McIlroy said. “That makes things difficult as well. It’s definitely playing a few shots harder than it usually is and it’s a major championship — it should be.”
McIlroy birdied the par-4 third, took bogeys at the par-3 fourth and six holes, then rebounded with three birdies in four holes starting at the par-5 seventh and ending at the par-5 10th.
“It was OK,” McIlroy said. “I started well, coming through part of the course where you’re looking to pick a couple of shots up on 14 and 15.
“Played that stretch of holes, 13, 14, 15, in 3-over. So if I just could have had that three-hole stretch back, other than that, I played nicely. Did what I needed to do, birdied the holes that you should birdie.”
McIlroy missed the green and a 10-foot par putt at 13, then found water left of the fairway on 14 and missed a five-foot bogey putt. The collapse ended when he never found the fairway and botched the birdie bid at 15.
“I’m just disappointed with that three-hole stretch, but right in it,” McIlroy said. “It was tough. Greens were difficult. Greens got very grainy as the day went on. If you just hit a putt a tiny bit off line, it exaggerated it. It was tough to hole putts.”
McIlroy, seeking his fifth career major title and third PGA crown, could join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men to win five major titles before turning 30.
One of the changes to toughen the course from when McIlroy last played it to turn it into a major test was the addition of Bermuda grass into the rough.
“One of the biggest things is the bermuda rough just around the greens, missing fairways,” McIlroy said. “It’s just once you get yourself out of position, it’s very difficult. It’s tricky around the greens.”
Asked about his first round with pal Harry Diamond as his caddie after a split with long-time bagman J.P. Fitzgerald, McIlroy did not cite a moment where he needed to lean on his caddie.
“I sort of got it rolling,” McIlroy said. “For a stretch of that round, I drove it really well. I was hitting the ball well. I could see birdies.
“I can see a low one out there. It’s just a matter of not shooting yourself in the foot too often like I did today.” DM
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