Rory McIlroy off to slow start at WM Phoenix Open
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Tricky winds on a course that he admitted doesn’t suit his game
Written by CameronMorfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Rory McIlroy didn’t mince words at his pre-tournament press conference at the WM Phoenix Open earlier this week.
Asked if he felt like the world No. 1, he gave a terse: “Yes.”
Prompted to expound on that, he mentioned his DP World Tour win in Dubai last month; his win at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina in his most recent PGA TOUR start last October; and his unprecedented third FedExCup title at the TOUR Championship in September.
And yet the golf ball does not care about all of that; with every shot, every round, a player must prove himself anew. In the first round of the WM Phoenix Open on Thursday, in swirling winds, McIlroy hit just four of 14 fairways and shot a 2-over 73.
“When you've got that 90-degree wind the whole time,” he said, “if it changes just slightly one way or another, it's a completely different shot, completely different club, and I got caught out by that a couple of times coming in, which wasn't ideal.
“I actually felt the best swing I made of the day was the par-3, 7th,” he continued, “and hit it 20 yards over the green. Tricky day. Hopefully the wind keeps up this afternoon for the guys out there, and we'll get back at it tomorrow.”
McIlroy played with Hideki Matsuyama (74) and Collin Morikawa (73), who didn’t get much going, either. They were all chasing early leaders Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin (66), both of Canada.
What happened to cool McIlroy’s torrid hot streak? Two things: Wind and a course that doesn’t suit his game. McIlroy has played here just once, finishing tied for 13th in 2021, but is back this year, the first in which the tournament is one of the PGA TOUR’s new designated events, with a $20 million purse and a commitment from the top players.
Asked about that commitment, he again didn’t mince words.
Rory McIlroy's incredible par save from next to fence at WM Phoenix Open
“Yeah, look, I wouldn't say that this is a golf course that sets up terribly well for me,” he said. “I struggle off the tee here. I feel like all the fairway bunkers are right in my landing zones. But it's a challenge, and again, like I'm trying to embrace that challenge.
“Yeah, look, not an event I historically play,” he added, “but I feel like I'm a good enough player to figure it out and contend and win on any golf course.”
This week’s field features 18 of the top 20 players in the world, the first time a non-major, non-PLAYERS Championship, non-FedExCup Playoffs event, and non-WGC has had that many since the 2007 Wells Fargo Championship. The co-headliners are McIlroy and ASU alumnus Jon Rahm, who won twice last month (Sentry Tournament of Champions, The American Express) and could stake his own claim as the best in the world. (He’s nominally No. 3.)
Any of the top three, McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler or Rahm, could leave Scottsdale ranked No. 1.
McIlroy will start the second round well back Friday, but as his come-from-behind victory at the TOUR Championship illustrated, he can make up ground fast, even on a course that doesn’t play to his strengths.