Rory McIlroy proved the equal of Jordan Spieth on his comeback to golf at the PGA Championship.
It might have been even better had McIlory not bogeyed the last, but a 71 to stand at one under par alongside Spieth in the worst of the conditions was a glass half full not empty.
The pair trail leader Dustin Johnson by five. While that is a sizeable deficit on paper, Spieth has been the ultimate reference point in this season of youthful wonder, giving McIlroy hope that a title defence is not beyond him at Whistling Straits should he remain at his shoulder come Sunday.
There was a moment of genius when McIlroy chipped off the beach at the fifth with his trousers around his knees and water lapping at his ball. As par saves go there were none better in the opening round.
In his first competitive round for 53 days only McIlroy’s putter was slow to adjust, and that in truth is familiar story. He saw four putts slide inches by for birdie that might have given him a share of the lead on a day dominated by the early starters.
David Lingmerth bucked the trend with a 67 in the afternoon to close within a shot of the lead. Beyond him it was a struggle for the second wave to get the ball close to the hole in the gathering gusts.
McIlroy started with bogey, courtesy of a three-putt, before responding immediately with a birdie at the par-5 second.
His driving was imperious, routinely sending his ball 50 yards past Spieth and the third wheel in the group, Open champion Zach Johnson, and closer to 70 at the 13 after catching the downslope.
There was brilliance from Spieth, too, not least the chip-in at the par-3 12th for birdie and his approach at the par-five 16 to three feet to set up another after finding trouble off the tee. Even McIlroy raised a hand to acknowledge the quality of that shot.
“Great finish,” McIlroy muttered at himself after watching his par putt miss by inches at the last. The frustration was understandable. He had played far better than he scored.
“It wasn't the best of starts, but to hit those two shots on the second hole and make birdie, that sort of settled me down and I could get into the round. I think anything under par this afternoon was a decent score,” McIlroy said.
“I was a little bit anxious coming back and seeing how my game's going to react whenever I'm put under a little bit of pressure and have a card in my hand and have to really score. And once I got those first couple holes out of the way, I felt like I settled into the round really nicely.”Reuse content