Playing for the first time since finishing runner-up to Scottie Scheffler in the Masters, McIlroy birdied five of his first six holes and followed a double bogey on the fourth – his 13th hole of the day – with birdies on the fifth and sixth.
The resulting three-under-par 67 left McIlroy two shots off the early clubhouse lead shared by England’s Aaron Rai and the American pair of Matthew Wolff and Denny McCarthy.
“I think first week back after three weeks off, there’s maybe going to be a couple of mistakes in there,” McIlroy said. “The three-putt on 17 was an unforced error.
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“Eleven’s a tough hole, I got a bit of a flyer from the semi rough and made bogey, but you sort of accept that and deal with that. I probably left a couple out there but I’m still pretty happy with 67.
“It could have been a 65 or a 64, but it’s still a good start. That was a nice bounce back (after the double bogey) to birdie both of those holes. I said to myself walking off the green, if I could just get back to three under by the end of the day after that, I would be pretty happy.”
With the tournament’s regular venue of Quail Hollow hosting the Presidents Cup later in 2022, this year’s event is taking place at TPC Potomac in Maryland, a move which would not appear to McIlroy’s advantage.
However, the course is just two miles from Congressional Country Club, where the 33-year-old McIlroy won the 2011 US Open by eight shots to claim his first major title.
“I love this part of the world, I like the area,” McIlroy said. “I went over to Congressional yesterday and that rekindled some nice memories. As I said, this style of golf just sort of suits me and I seem to play well around here.”
Rai carded five birdies in a bogey-free 65 as he seeks his first victory on the PGA Tour following two wins in Europe, the most recent coming after beating Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off at the 2020 Scottish Open.