Rory McIlroy’s biggest concern on his return from injury was not getting his feet wet as the world number one kept himself in contention to retain his US PGA Championship title.
McIlroy had not played a competitive round since June 21 after suffering an ankle ligament injury playing football with friends at the start of July, which forced him to miss the defence of his Open and Bridgestone Invitational titles.
The 26-year-old admitted he was nervous at Whistling Straits and went on to three putt the opening hole, but hit what he described as one of the best shots of his career from 286 yards to birdie the par-five second and eventually finished one under par, five behind leader Dustin Johnson.
The highlight of the day was saving par on the fifth after playing his fourth shot from the edge of a water hazard, McIlroy simply rolling up his right trouser leg and splashing out of the shallow water to 12 feet.
“The only thing I was trying not to do was get my feet wet, because if the water gets through this shoe, then the tape [on his left ankle] gets wet and then that would be annoying or uncomfortable for the rest of the day,” McIlroy said.
“It was a little bit deeper on the right side, so I just rolled my right trouser leg up and it was fine. I just had to remember to hit it hard. And I was very fortunate to escape with a par there.
“I think anything under par this afternoon was a decent score. I thought trying to shoot something under 70 was realistic. I sort of had a chance to do that after birdieing the 16th. I missed a good chance there on 17. Unfortunate bogey on the last, I guess. Just hit a 3-iron and held it up a little bit too much into the wind and leaked it right.”
McIlroy’s 71 was matched by playing partner and rival for the world number one spot Jordan Spieth, the Masters and US Open champion looking to become only the third player after Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods to win three majors in a year.
Spieth followed 10 straight pars with a three-putt bogey on the 11th, but chipped in on the next and also birdied the 16th.
“We really battled back after 10 and 11, which were disappointing holes for me, to salvage an under par round and really stay in this tournament,” the 22-year-old said. “If I didn’t get that good break on 12, it could have been a different story the rest of the round.”