"It was hot. Damn hot," as Robin Williams yelled in Good Morning Vietnam. And so, once again, was Rory McIlroy's game. Crisis? What crisis? Well, McIlroy did say he liked the grass at the Ocean Course. And he smoked it in the first round of the 94th US PGA Championship here yesterday, shooting a five-under-par 67. He had graded his form on the eve of the tournament as a B. On this performance, an A may yet appear on his end-of-term report.
The 23-year-old world No 3's mood this week has been upbeat, as he has sensed a return of the scintillating shot-making form that sent him soaring away to win the US Open last year by eight shots. The monsoon that has soaked the course was perfect for his attacking style, as the greens were as receptive as dartboards. It did not take McIlroy long to hit the bull's eye: bash with the driver, whack with the wedge, birdie at the 10th (his first hole). The perfect start.
McIlroy set off among the dunes shortly after breakfast time. The setting was serene, with the Atlantic's white horses lapping on to the beach. Colossal colonial-style Addams Family houses, tucked away in the shade of giant trees, line the course with their verandahs and rocking chairs and Southern belles sweeping down spiral staircases to beg Rhett not to leave.
In fact no one was gone with the wind yesterday. There wasn't any. It was the calm after the storms that poured six inches of rain on to Kiawah Island. "There was completely no wind," McIlroy said. "It was flat calm and I really thought that I had to take advantage of the conditions.
"I got off to a great start, was three under through seven holes and just took it on from there. It's a great score to build on. We know there's wind and bad weather coming. It won't be like that again."
We have been here before with McIlroy. There have been good starts out of the grid this season followed by stalled engines. He admitted it, too, and will be hoping this time it won't be a case of déjà vu all over again. He was wise to be cautious. "It's tough for guys to follow up a good round with another," he said. "You see it all the time. Someone shoots 66 and then they will do well to break 70 the next day. It's just the way golf is."
His mantra to avoid another slide is "middle of the greens". It worked in round one. He hit 15 out of 18 in the regulation in a rare bogey-free round. Even more rare is the sight of John Daly on a major championship leaderboard. A four-under-par 68 for the golfer formerly known as the "Wild Thing" saw him tucked in behind McIlroy and the early front-runner, Sweden's Carl Pettersson at six under. In the chasing pack were defending champion Keegan Bradley and Geoff Ogilvy at four under, and Ian Poulter and Thomas Bjorn at two under.
The last time Daly finished in the top 10 of one of golf's stellar four-pack was in 1995 when he won the Open at St Andrews. The 46-year-old, more "Mild Thing" these days, and more notorious for his loud trousers than a loud lifestyle, won the US PGA Championship, too, in 1991. McIlroy was two years old then. The crowds still love Daly and the feeling is mutual. "They're amazing," he said. "They just keep you going. They were getting good and loud on the back nine. I love it. I'm just kind of loosey-goosey out there – and it feels good."
While McIlroy looked cool in his cherry-red shirt, others were less fortunate as the temperature hit 90F with 75 per cent humidity. Many players looked like they had stepped out of the shower and straight on to the course. Others had embarrassing sweat patches. Tiger Woods looked like he had soaking wet pants. He recovered from bogeys at the 13th and 14th (his fourth and fifth holes) to sign for a three-under-par 69. "I played well," he said. "Anything in the 60s is going to be a good start in a major."
But it was the usual hot-potch of genius and frustration from the world No 2. Genius: his flop-shot wedge that parachuted down to four feet to help save par at the 9th, his last hole. "Open up with a 60 [degree wedge] and put a bit of fuel on it," heexplained. Frustration: channeling John McEnroe at the 15th when his approach zipped away from the hole. "You cannot be serious," he muttered, just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"I probably lost a bit of weight today," Woods said after his round. "Just have to hydrate and recover from the heat."
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