Newly crowned Open champion Rory McIlroy had to settle for an opening 69 on his return to action in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.
Playing his first event since claiming his third major title at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy played his opening 11 holes in three under par at Firestone Country Club.
However, the 25-year-old then three-putted the third hole – his 12th – and ran up a double-bogey six on the eighth after finding a greenside bunker with his approach and taking four more shots to get down.
But McIlroy finished in style with a brilliant approach to the ninth to set up a birdie from just two feet and finish one under par, four shots off the clubhouse lead shared by American Ryan Moore and South African Charl Schwartzel.
“I felt like I played really solid,” McIlroy said after his round. “I drove the ball for the most part well. I got myself into trouble a couple of times, which led to a bogey and a double bogey on my back nine, but apart from that I felt I played really solid golf without really doing anything.”
McIlroy has taken the Claret Jug to Akron after enjoying a couple of days celebrating with it following his Open triumph, but was quick to get back to work with plenty still to play for this season.
“I didn’t want any sort of let-down and not just these two weeks, but basically the rest of the season because I’ve got myself now in a good position in the FedEx Cup, a good position in the world rankings, we’ve got a major left this year, there’s a lot of golf still left to play,” added McIlroy, who could reclaim the world No 1 spot from Adam Scott with his first World Golf Championship victory on Sunday.
“It’s great to win a major, great to win The Open Championship but I just want to keep going forward and I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on it and enjoy what I’ve achieved this year. For now I want to keep going and try to have some more success on the course.”
Moore had earlier carded a flawless 65 to improve his chances of securing a Ryder Cup berth, the 31-year-old currently lying 14th in the points standings with the top nine after next week’s US PGA Championship sealing a place on Tom Watson’s team for Gleneagles.
Compatriot Patrick Reed is just outside the automatic places in 10th but also boosted his hopes with an opening 67 marred by two bogeys in the last six holes.
Former Masters champion Schwartzel joined Moore in the clubhouse lead thanks to five birdies in his last eight holes, including four in a row from the fourth.
“I think it’s the sort of golf course that maybe lends you to going on a run like that. The golf course is in such good shape, there are not many blades of grass out of place,” Schwartzel said.
“This course can really frustrate you or you can be really happy with the way you played because there is no forgiveness. I started hitting some really good iron shots and rolling the putts in and it was not much different playing-wise than the other nine other than hitting it really close.”
Former world No 1 Tiger Woods was among the later starters and the defending champion was one over par after four adventurous opening holes in an event he has won eight times.
Woods three-putted the first from just eight feet and then snap-hooked his drive on the second so far left that it found the semi-rough to the right of the third hole, which runs in the opposite direction.
However, the 14-time major winner then hit a fairway wood onto the green and two-putted from 50 feet for birdie, only to drop a shot on the fourth after missing the green with his approach.
Winners’ board: Champions since 1999
2013 Tiger Woods 7 shots
2012 Keegan Bradley 1
2011 Adam Scott 4
2010 Hunter Mahan 2
2009 Tiger Woods 4
2008 Vijay Singh 1
2007 Woods 8
2006 Woods Play-off
2005 Woods 1
2004 Stewart Cink 4
2003 Darren Clarke 4
2002 Craig Parry 4
2001 Woods Play-off
2000 Woods 11
1999 Woods 1