Magical McIlroy steals the show

Rory McIlroy has bounced right back from his final-round Masters meltdown to utterly dominate day one at the US Open.

Rory McIlroy proved that he has much more than sheer raw talent when he bounced right back from his final-round meltdown at the Masters to dominate Thursday’s opening round of the 111th US Masters with a stunning 6-under 65.

Clearly there also a great deal of mental strength in his make-up.

On the US Open’s second longest layout in history where the green are super fast and the rough is really tough, 22-year-old Ulsterman shrugged away his Augusta National nightmare as if it had never existed and produced what had to be up there with some of the storied championship’s best-ever first rounds.

You don’t get to 6-under in a US Open without playing brilliant golf – and he did just that, hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation and never putting a foot wrong on a course with plenty of hazards, notably of the watery grave kind.

“I didn’t really put a foot wrong,” McIlroy told the media in a matter of fact way afterwards, never showing a trace of arrogance.

“I feel like I’m driving it well. I’m hitting my iron shots good, holing a few putts. So it’s a nice combination.”

Tied for second, three shots back on 3-under, were former PGA winner YE Yang of South Korea and the reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.

Both shot three-under 68s on a day that may have spelled the early beginnings of another Masters confrontation between McIlroy and Schwartzel.

A second South Africa major winner, Louis Oosthuizen, the reigning Open Champion, was a shot further back on 2-under in a group that also included a revitalised Sergio Garcia.

For fast-starting McIlroy, this week will be all about how he finishes after taking the first-round lead for the third time in the last four majors, but not being able to get the job done.

At the 2010 Open at St Andrews, he fired an opening 63 but followed that with an 80.

At Augusta National in April, he carried a four-shot lead into the final round, but imploded with an 80 that left him 10 shots behind Schwartzel.

“I took the experience from Augusta and I learned a lot from it,” McIlroy said about his latest challenge at Congressional. “I feel like these good starts in the majors are very much down to my preparation.”

Only two other first-round leaders at a US Open have enjoyed a bigger cushion – Tommy Armour’s five-shot lead after an opening 68 in 1933 at North Shore, and a four-stroke edge held by Olin Dutra after a 69 at Fresh Meadow in 1932.

McIlroy said he had erased any possible lingering doubts about previous disappointments.

“You can’t be thinking about what’s happened before. You’ve got to just be thinking about this week.”

Another lesson taken away from Augusta, he believes, was that you cannot afford to sit on your lead and be as tentative as he was.

“Being so tentative and trying to keep ahead of the field instead of playing a free-flowing game like I usually do was a mistake,” he said.

“The first three days I played aggressively. I played smartly, but I played aggressively to my targets and aggressively to the spots I wanted to hit.

“Then going into the Sunday, I started to play defensively, and that’s when things can go wrong.”

McIlroy said Jack Nicklaus gave him a pep talk two weeks ago at the Memorial tournament the 18-time major winner hosts at Muirfield Villager.

“He just said he would kick my backside,” McIlroy said about how the 71-year-old who also told the youngster, ‘I’m expecting big things from you.’

“That ‘s a nice pressure to have, knowing that the greatest player ever at the moment thinks that you’re going to do pretty good.”

Top 10 leaderboard
65 Rory McIlroy (NIrl)
68 Charl Schwartzel (RSA), YE Yang (Kor)
69 Alexandre Rocha (Bra), Scott Hend (Aus), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Ryan Palmer, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Kyung-Tae Kim (Kor)
70 Robert Garrigus, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), John Senden (Aus), Davis Love III, Stewart Cink, Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Johan Edfors (Swe), Chez Reavie, Robert Rock (Eng), Bubba Dickerson, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson (Swe)