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26 Mar 2019, Edition - 1351, Tuesday

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Sports

Rory McIlroy sets off with a bang to lead WGC-Mexico Championship

The Guardian

Renewed perspective continues to pay off for Rory McIlroy. The sense that victory is tantalisingly close for the Northern Irishman was renewed on Thursdayin Mexico City, where a seemingly effortless 63 – eight under par – positioned him atop the WGC leaderboard. McIlroy in this touch is compulsive viewing.

In events of 2019 prior to this, McIlroy’s highest single-round score was 72. A 63 at last week’s Genesis Open and 65 at the earlier Farmers Insurance Open stood out before round one here, where McIlroy found 17 greens in regulation. His longest converted putt was from 20ft, further demonstrating his level of accuracy.

Afterwards, the 29-year-old suggested his on-course vigour is all in the mind. There is no prospect whatsoever of McIlroy contemplating victory prematurely.

“I’m managing my game well,” McIlroy said. “I love where my attitude is at. My attitude on the golf course is fantastic and my putting is good. I’ve seen some really good signs with my putting over the last few weeks. I had three really good putting rounds at Riviera the last three days and carried it into here. So if I’m excited about anything with my game, it’s my putting. That and my attitude have been probably the best they’ve been in a long time.

“I think winning is a by-product of doing a lot of things; practising the right way, thinking well, training well, eating well, all this stuff that I try to do. Winning is a by-product of doing all the little things well and I feel like I’m on a really good journey of doing that.

“I can’t put pressure on myself, I can’t push it. I’m off to a great start this week, but I literally have taken each and every day this year one day at a time and that’s the way I’m going to treat it not just this week but going forward.”

Peak McIlroy arrived at the 1st. A majestically cut two-iron from 300 yards pitched within inches of the hole, with the subsequent 6ft putt for an eagle converted. The only minor trauma of the day arrived at the par-five 6th, where McIlroy was unable to find a gap between tree branches with his second shot. He bemoaned the narrow limb which knocked his ball back to earth. “It’s something a dog would pick up,” McIlroy said. “The one branch it could not hit, it hit.”

McIlroy’s consistency is endorsed by numbers; in his last 13 rounds on the PGA Tour, he is an aggregate of 48 under par. His first-round lead is just one, from Dustin Johnson. That threat to McIlroy is a live one; Johnson won this tournament in 2016. “There’s way too much going on out there for me to worry about what anyone else is doing,” said Johnson. “The greens are so tough. Today was a good day. I controlled the ball well and gave myself a lot of opportunities.”

Tiger Woods returned a level-par 71 during which he struggled on the greens. The score was, though, mildly impressive given the 14-times major winner had opened with a double bogey, hooking his first tee shot out of bounds.

England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who finished just a shot adrift of the winner Phil Mickelson a year ago, is again in good position after a Thursday 67. “I like it here, this course suits my eye,” said Hatton. There will be no successful defence from Mickelson, though, after he tumbled to a 79.

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