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McIlroy takes positive step with 1-under 69 at Oak Hill

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – For a while Thursday, it appeared Rory McIlroy’s last-minute film session was all he needed to prepare for his title defense at the PGA Championship.

McIlroy was 3 under through his first four holes at Oak Hill, displaying the kind of form that led to his rout a year ago at Kiawah Island. In recent weeks he has watched replays of last year’s PGA, trying to reinforce both proper swing mechanics and positive body language.

Sure, the inconsistency that has plagued the world No. 3 all season resurfaced once again, but he settled for a 1-under 69 that left him just four shots back after the first round here.

“Today was definitely positive,” he said afterward. “I felt like I played really, really well.”

McIlroy’s game is built around his driver, which is one of several reasons why he has struggled so much this season – for months, he couldn’t find a club that consistently put him in the fairway. (He is 143rd in driving accuracy.)

Finding the short grass is even more critical at Oak Hill, with its long, gnarly rough waiting to gobble up any off-line drives, but McIlroy has unsheathed the big stick more often than many of the players in the field. He hit eight drivers Thursday, when the course played soft from overnight and afternoon rain, and he planned to employ a similar strategy all week. The graduated rough – the grass is longer the farther from the fairway – made the option more appealing, as well.

“I guess I’ve always been that way inclined just to try and get driver in my hand whenever I can,” he said.

For the day, McIlroy hit nine of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.