The world No. 1 played his first five holes in 4 under par, including an eagle at the fifth, to move back into the picture at Whistling Straits, but he stumbled almost as quickly with bogeys at Nos. 6 and 8.
It was eventful the rest of the way for McIlroy, who injured his left ankle last month and entered the year’s final major unsure of what to expect from his game.
“Got off to a dream start, really,” said McIlroy, who made just three pars on an inward loop of 34 for a 4-under 68. “You really have to battle to shoot 4 under in the end. I guess that probably shows just a lack of competitiveness and considering this is the first week back in a few weeks.”
Still, McIlroy said he was encouraged by the progress his game has made this week following opening rounds of 71 and he was tied for 17th place when he completed his day.
Although he held out hope he would have an outside chance of contending on Sunday he realistically didn’t expect the leaders to slow their assault on Whistling Straits.
McIlroy also revealed that he plans to take the next two weeks off before resuming his schedule at the Deutsche Bank Championship, which means he will skip the first playoff event in New Jersey for the first time as a member of the PGA Tour.