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Rory McIlroy starts fast again with a 65 at U.S. Open

GOLF

After his final-round collapse at the Masters, the young Northern Irishman has a three-shot lead after the first round at Congressional. Top three in the world can't shoot better than 74.

June 16, 2011|By Jeff Shain

Reporting from Bethesda, Md. — Another major, another ridiculously low start.

Rory McIlroy has these opening rounds down at golf's major championships. Now it remains for him to carry the momentum all the way to Sunday night.

"It's not going to be that easy every day. I know that. I think everyone else knows that," McIlroy, 22, said Thursday after a six-under-par 65 put him three shots clear of his nearest U.S. Open pursuers. "But it is nice when all parts of your game are on song and you can put together a low round."

If music is the comparison, consider McIlroy's performance a Mozart concerto. He missed only one green at Congressional Country Club, saving par with a 15-foot putt after finding a greenside bunker at No. 14. That was his longest par putt all day.

McIlroy's three-shot edge over Charl Schwartzel and Y.E. Yang is the largest after the first round of the U.S. Open since 1976.

"The game's easy when you hit it straight and make every putt," said playing partner Phil Mickelson, who shot a 74. "No course is too tough when you hit it like that."

McIlroy, 22, is making a habit of boffo openings. He charged out of the British Open gate last year with a 63, matching the standard for a major, and led this year's Masters after a first-round 65.

Neither, though, resulted in victory.

Victimized by strong winds, McIlroy ballooned to an 80 at St. Andrews. And that wasn't nearly as gut-wrenching as his final round at Augusta National. A four-shot lead to start the day was gone by the 10th hole, where a triple bogey keyed a back-nine 43.

"You pick things out that you could have done better," McIlroy said. "But after you do that and you're happy with everything you've taken from it, you've just got to move on."

Schwartzel — who wound up donning the green jacket — joined fellow major winner Yang (2009 PGA) with 68s to head the chase pack. British Open titleholder Louis Oosthuizen was another shot back along with Sergio Garcia and four others. Another 12 players posted 70s.

"You need to stay in there with a chance," Schwartzel said. "It's a long way to go."

There's plenty of ground to make up for some of the game's marquee names.

Showcased together in the same threesome, world No. 1 Luke Donald, No. 2 Lee Westwood and No. 3 Martin Kaymer combined to shoot 10 over par. Donald and Kaymer carded 74s, Westwood a 75.

"We couldn't get anything going," Kaymer said.

Only Mickelson's recovery skills kept him from flirting with an 80.

"This actually turned out to be a great day because I played horrific," Mickelson said. "To walk away only three over, I'm still in it."

Maybe. It has been 13 years since the eventual Open champion opened higher than one over.

Asked if he'd be willing to stand on six under all the way to Sunday, McIlroy liked his chances.

"I'd take that," he said. "This golf course is only going to get firmer; it's only going to get harder. I still think something around two, three, four under par is going to have a good chance."

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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