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 on Thursday.
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 to 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 told reporters 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 number one 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 in December and January 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.
Compatriot Patrick Reed is just outside the automatic places in 10th but also boosted his hopes with an opening 67 marred by two late bogeys.
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.
“The golf course is in such good shape, there are not many blades of grass out of place,” Schwartzel said.