By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Muirfield Village has that "look." You know, what we mean. Lush grass, tree-lined fairways.
Just what Rory McIlroy likes.
So it was no surprise to see the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland fire a 66 on Thursday that left him in a tie for the lead with Chris Riley after the first round of the Memorial Tournament.
"This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, one of my favorite golf courses," McIlroy said. "I feel as if it really does set up well for me. I like these sort of golf courses, the likes of here and Akron and Quail Hollow, ... and I sort of feel as if I'm pretty comfortable on courses like that.
"... I'm swinging well, I'm hitting it good, and I'm holing a few putts, so hopefully I can keep it going for the next three days."
The results at those venues back up McIlroy's words.
His first PGA TOUR victory came at Quail Hollow, which annually hosts the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for 10th here at Muirfield Village in his debut last year, then shared ninth at another look-a-like in Firestone at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
"I do prefer this sort of golf where you've got to fly it in the air," McIlroy explained. "When there's no wind and the conditions are as good as they are and the greens are this good, you're going to give yourself plenty of opportunities."
And he did -- particularly on the front nine, which was McIlroy's second of the day. He surged to the top of the leaderboard with a string of three straight birdies that began on the sixth hole.
"(I was) really happy with the way I played today," McIlroy said. "Got off to a little bit of a scrappy start on my front nine, which was the back nine. Got it up and down a few times just to keep myself around 1- or 2-under par and then found a few birdies on the way in, which was the bulk of my birdies.
"Happy with 66, a great way to start the tournament."
McIlroy is making his second start in the U.S. since he squandered a chance to win his first major at the Masters earlier this year. He took a four-stroke lead into the final round but shot 80 and ended up in a tie for 15th.
McIlroy was the third 54-hole leader to self-destruct in the last four majors -- joining Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open and Nick Watney at the PGA Championship. He sees it as a learning experience.
"I don't know how Dustin and Nick were feeling whenever they were going into the last round leading, but it's a new experience, and I don't know if it's just because we all want it so badly that we sort of change from Saturday night to Sunday in a way," McIlroy said.
"... I mean, they're huge. They're major championships, and you want to really try and get your first one out of the way and kick on. I think the common thing probably between all three of us, we probably put ourselves under a lot of pressure on that Sunday to just get it done, and that probably worked against us."
Small wonder, then, that McIlroy is looking forward to another shot in two weeks at Congressional for the U.S. Open. He's got quite a busy -- and unusual -- schedule leading up to the season's second major, though.
McIlroy heads to Haiti on Monday where he will be part of a field trip for UNICEF. The he heads to Congressional on Wednesday and Thursday, Bayonne on Friday and Pine Valley for the weekend.
"It should be pretty eye-opening," McIlroy said of the trip to the island nation that was devastated by an earthquake last year. "It's something I've wanted to do since I signed up with UNICEF at the start of this year. I'm looking forward to it."
McIlroy said he wanted to work with UNICEF because he feels that he can relate to the young people it serves.
"I just don't want to really put my name to it, I wanted to do something," McIlroy said. "They were very keen for me to go and see somewhere where they're sort of hands on and they're working with, and it sort of just fit in quite well that I could go to Haiti for a couple of days and see what they do."