McIlroy is making his first start since a disastrous effort on the greens led to a missed cut at the PGA Championship. In the three weeks since, he swapped out his Nike Method blade putter for a mallet-style Scotty Cameron, but his even-par 71 at Bethpage Black still featured 31 putts - including four misses from inside 8 feet.
“Felt like I probably could have been a few better. Missed a couple of short ones,” McIlroy said. “I think anything under par in the afternoon especially is a good score. Have to get back out there tomorrow in better conditions, with the greens a little better, and try to do something.”
McIlroy stirred some unpleasant U.S. Open flashbacks on the fourth green, when his ball moved slightly as he got set over a short putt. But after conferring with a rules official, McIlroy was deemed not to have caused the ball to move, and went on to make his second of three birdies on the round.
“I addressed my ball, so I put my putter behind it, but with the wind, that’s a very exposed green. And with these poa greens as well, sort of what happened to Dustin (Johnson) at the U.S. Open as well, any tiny bit of movement, whether it’s wind or even pressure of your feet,” he said. “Told the ref what happened, and he said with the wind and everything, I don’t think you caused the ball to move. I just played it from where it was.”
While he avoided a rules infraction, McIlroy knows that in order to contend this week on the Black Course, he’ll need to turn around his performance with the club that has vexed him the most this summer.
“I felt a little tentative at the start. I left a couple (putts) short early on and then I missed the short one on my fourth hole today,” he said. “I struggled a little bit, but I stayed with it and stayed patient. Felt like even par was a fair reflection of how I played.”