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Fighting sickness, Rory McIlroy salvages 71 to open PGA Championship

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Fighting sickness, Rory McIlroy salvages 71 to open PGA Championship

Skin temperature was 3.5 degrees higher than normal Thursday morning

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Even in his adopted second home, Rory McIlroy isn’t immune to physical discomfort.

    McIlroy has taken center stage at this week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in western New York, his wife Erica’s home region. But the last couple days, his body hasn’t felt quite right. He woke up Thursday morning with a 22% recovery rate on his WHOOP (a fitness-tracking wearable), and his skin temperature was 3.5 degrees higher than normal, he said.

    Not exactly optimized to battle Oak Hill, and a 3-over start through 10 holes wasn’t ideal, either.

    But sometimes all it takes is one moment to spark a week. McIlroy drained a 37-footer for par from behind the green on the par-4 second, his 11th hole of the day, his ball going up a steep bank before flatting out on the putting surface and trickling into the cup. It was, he said, the turning point in his round as he rallied for a 1-over 71.

    Rory McIlroy throws a dart to yield birdie at the PGA Championship

    “It was massive,” McIlroy said of his par save on No. 2. “Depending on what happens over the next three days and what I go on to do, you know, I may look back at that shot as being the sort of turning point of the week.”

    He’s five back of morning-wave leader Bryson DeChambeau, but he’s very much in the tournament.

    Provided, that is, McIlroy can start feeling better.

    “I’m fighting something,” he said. “I thought I got a great night’s sleep last night, and I look at my WHOOP, and it’s 22% recovery … But I actually feel better today than I felt yesterday, so plenty of water and a bit of rest, I’ll be fine.

    “If anything, I started to see a couple of better golf shots coming down the last few holes,” he continued. “Hit that good 6-iron into the third hole and two great shots into 4. Good iron shot into 6. Nice wedge shot into 8. There was a couple of glimmers of hope in there coming in.”

    McIlroy, a member at Oak Hill, hit just two of 14 fairways, but 11 of 18 greens in regulation. He’s used to hitting it out of the rough, he quipped, adding that his natural ability to play from the long grass could prove beneficial. With firm conditions and angled fairways, most everyone in the field will find the rough at some point.

    “I’ve always been pretty good out of the rough,” said McIlroy, a three-time FedExCup champion and the third-ranked player in the world. “I've always been able to get steep on it and have a bit of speed and maybe hit a couple extra clubs out of lies that maybe some guys can't, so that's a little bit of an advantage to me this week.”

    His first round was a step in the right direction after some recent struggles. A second-round 77 led to a missed cut at the Masters, and he finished T47 at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where he’s won three times. He said he has struggled to square the club face on the downswing – “re-closure was getting a little too fast, throwing my hands on it, and sort of started to get the miss going both ways, especially at Quail Hollow.”

    Some of those struggles continued Thursday – “it’s pretty messy out there” – and he planned to head to the range after the round. Still, his score puts him in the top half of the field. Perhaps the local support carried him through. The adopted Buffalo Bills fan was greeted by “Go Bills!” chants just one day after meeting Bills quarterback Josh Allen – a fan of McIlroy – at Oak Hill on Wednesday afternoon.

    McIlroy authored his own second-half comeback Thursday. After that timely par save, he played his last seven holes in 2-under. Those hopes of earning a fifth major title? They’re still alive.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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