Golf | McIlroy makes 'pretty solid' start

Napa – Rory McIlroy, a picture of
relaxation on his first visit to the wine country of California’s Napa Valley,
took advantage of ideal scoring conditions at Silverado Resort to surge into
contention for the Open on Thursday.

Having set his sights on making a fast
start to the season in the opening event on the 2015-16 PGA Tour, the Northern
Irish world number three fired a four-under-par 68 on the sun-splashed North
Course to sit five strokes off the early pace.

McIlroy rebounded from an early bogey with
two birdies on his outward nine, and then picked up three more shots after the
turn to climb into the upper reaches of the leaderboard in the idyllic
surrounds of Silverado Country Club.

“I felt like I played pretty
well,” four-times major winner McIlroy told Golf Channel. “I got off
to a bit of a slow start this morning but gradually got into the round and
started hitting some better shots and giving myself plenty of chances.

“I didn’t convert many of them but
still a pretty solid score and in good position going into the next three

McIlroy missed three birdie putts from
inside 10 feet after reaching 17 of 18 greens in regulation but was delighted
to achieve his pre-tournament goal of getting into contention for a fourth
victory this year.

His three previous wins came before the end
of May and he was sidelined for almost two months after rupturing a ligament in
his ankle while playing soccer with friends on July 4.

“I want to have chances to win golf
tournaments, that’s really my focus until the end of the year,” said
McIlroy. “And it’s important to get a good start (to the 2015-16 PGA

“The last couple of years … I feel
like I have always been playing catch-up because I usually start my PGA Tour
season at the end of February and most guys are starting now.

“So it’s nice to get a couple of
events in before the turn of the year. Hopefully when I get back to Florida (in
late February) I won’t be feeling the pressure of trying to catch up to these

With a grin on his face, McIlroy suggested
that his biggest challenge this week would be trying to remain in contention
while also making the most of his first trip to the Napa Valley.

“I’d never been to this area before
but you can see why everyone is relaxed. Beautiful weather and there’s a lot of
stuff to do away from the golf course,” the 26-year-old said.

“So I’m trying to find a balance
between enjoying myself this week and still trying to play well. It’s a great
event and I’m obviously very happy to be here.”

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