Rory McIlroy entered the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open with huge expectations hanging above him, and while he didn't start the tournament in ideal fashion, he didn't play himself out of contention either.
McIlroy opened the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Thursday with a one-over 71, which put him three strokes behind a trio of leaders at two-under when he entered the clubhouse.
Here is a look at the live leaderboard with McIlroy's first round complete:
After a tough 2013 season, McIlroy has been in fine form thus far in 2014. In fact, he entered the U.S. Open on quite a roll after winning the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship and finishing 15th or better in five consecutive PGA Tour events.
McIlroy was tabbed by most as the favorite alongside Phil Mickelson, and he has an opportunity to enter elite company if he is able to win his third career major in the form of this year's U.S. Open, according to Golf Channel's Justin Ray:
Jack Nicklaus is among the legendary players he is trying to match, and it just so happens that McIlroy had a long talk with the Golden Bear prior to the tournament. Per Brian Wacker of PGATour.com, Nicklaus gave McIlroy some valuable advice when it comes to performing well at majors.
"I couldn’t believe he said this, but he said he managed his game for 90 percent of the majors he won," McIlroy said of Nicklaus. "He said he played good for three or four of them and the other 14 he said, 'I didn't play well, I just managed my game better than the rest.'"
McIlroy must heed that advice if he hopes to triumph at Pinehurst as he clearly didn't play his best golf during the first round.
McIlroy started the tournament off in ho-hum fashion as he parred the first five holes, which is never a bad thing when it comes to the U.S. Open. Three of the past four U.S. Opens have been won with a score of even par or worse, and the last U.S. Open at Pinehurst was won by Michael Campbell at even par in 2005 as well.
Things started to get away from McIlroy a bit on the ensuing two holes, however. A poor tee shot on the par-three sixth hole put McIlroy in a precarious position. He was unable to keep his par streak going as he posted his first bogey of the day and fell to one-over par.
The bad mojo carried over to the par-five seventh as well. Another errant tee shot forced McIlroy to scramble, but he failed to save par once again. McIlroy had to settle for another bogey and it looked like things might start to get out of hand.
McIlroy righted the ship a bit by parring the eighth hole and finally scored the first positive mark of the day on his scorecard on the par-three ninth. According to ByTheMin Golf, McIlroy's tee shot on the ninth was much better than what he did on the par-three sixth as he gave himself a legitimate birdie chance:
The Northern Irish star was able to convert as he lowered his score to one-over par and headed toward the back nine with some momentum finally on his side.
Much like the early part of the front nine, the back nine started with a long string of pars from McIlroy. He managed to par every hole from 10 through 15 and seemed to settle into a nice groove. He put himself in position to get back to even for the day with a birdie on one of the final three holes, but he was unable to capitalize.
The par-four 16th proved troublesome for McIlroy as he carded his third bogey of the day and dropped back down to two-over par. McIlroy was able to salvage the round on the 18th hole, though, as he closed with a birdie and finished a respectable one-over par.
Despite the promising finish, Golf Courier characterized McIlroy's start as "frustrating":
In fact, McIlroy was actually overshadowed by countryman Graeme McDowell, who put himself very much in contention with a fine opening round, according to Des Cahill of RTE Sports:
Another player who is currently ahead of McIlroy is Kevin Na, who surprisingly finished his day with a share of the lead. Despite how well he played, he admitted that he was impressed with McIlroy's performance, per Philip Reed of The Irish Times:
It was ultimately a fairly unassuming round for McIlroy, which isn't the worst thing since the spotlight was shining on him quite brightly.
Following the round, McIlroy spoke about his performance (via the PGA Tour on Twitter):
He didn't play fantastic golf by any means, but he remained within striking distance of the leaders and has given himself an opportunity to make a move over the next three rounds.
That could prove difficult, though, as McIlroy admitted that the course is likely to get tougher, according to Laurence Reisman of TCPalm.com:
With that said, the course will get more difficult for everyone else as well, so McIlroy should still have an opportunity to make some headway.
There will need to be more brilliance in McIlroy's game in the coming days if he is going to win, but steady golf in the first round of a major is nothing to sneeze at.
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