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September 20 2012

11:23 PM

McIlroy hopes to shore up his driving

Rory McIroy interview after Round 1

Following an opening-round 69, Rory McIlroy reflects on his play in the 2012 TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola with John Maginnes from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

ATLANTA -- Rory McIlroy didn't need much time to figure out how to play East Lake. Hitting fairways is definitely the key to mastering the Donald Ross gem.

"It's straightforward," he explained. "You know what you've got to do out there. … I don't think it's any sort of disadvantage coming here for the first time. It's all out there in front of you."

But the young Northern Irishman just didn't find enough of either on Thursday during the first round of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. As a result, McIlroy only managed three birdies and negated two of those with bogeys on the way to a 69.

The round of 1 under left McIlroy three strokes in arrears of his playing partner, Tiger Woods, and Justin Rose, who set the pace as the final event in the FedExCup Playoffs got under way under increasingly sunny skies. He and Woods had switched positions in the standings, too, with that $10 million bonus on the line.

McIlroy, who had started the week ranked first to Woods, only hit seven fairways -- and five of those errant drives led to missed greens, as well. He was unable to get up and down at the first and 14th holes, missing par-savers of 15 and 20 feet, respectively.

"If you hit the ball in the rough here, it's very, very difficult to get any control over your ball," McIlroy said. "... Obviously, putting the ball on the fairway is a premium, and for the most part today I did that, but any time you don't hit a fairway, you're making life difficult for yourself."

McIlroy did manage three birdies but he wasn't really hitting the ball close on greens he called "pretty sneaky, sneakily slopey." His first birdie putt came from 17 feet at the third hole and he added another from 22 at the 12th. McIlroy then got up and down from the greenside bunker at the 15th hole to get back into red numbers for the day.

"My speed was just off a little bit," said McIlroy, who had 28 putts. "... But, you know, it evened itself out. I made a good one for par there on 13, and I made a good one for birdie on 12. Lipped one in on 15 for birdie too, so it sort of all evens itself out in the end."

McIlroy is still well within shouting distance of Woods, who has now shot the lower score four of the five times they've been paired together during the Playoffs. But the 23-year-old still has momentum after winning the last two Playoffs events and three of his last four starts.

"I always say groupings like that, it's a great atmosphere, it's a great buzz, and wish I could have shot a couple shots better," said McIlroy, who gets another marquee partner in Phil Mickelson on Friday. "... I'll just go out there tomorrow and give it my best again like I did today. ...

"I felt like I hit the ball pretty good, so just go out there tomorrow and try to play the same way, and maybe hole a few more putts and turns what I shot today into something in the mid-60s."

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