CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Rory McIlroy felt a little bit like he was playing in a major championship.
That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the field here at the BMW Championship.
With British Open and PGA Championship titles won earlier this year, McIlroy’s game is honed for stern tests. That’s what Cherry Hills offered Thursday in the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
With a 3-under-par 67, McIlroy grabbed a share of the lead in the suspended first round. He’s among three players out front, with nine players yet to finish the round. Play was halted late in the day because of the threat of bad weather.
“It's playing a little bit like a U.S. Open,” said McIlroy. “I wouldn't say it's quite as difficult as that, but it's thick rough, especially around the greens, and firm greens. That's what they need to keep the scoring the way it is.”
Though it has been 29 years since Cherry Hills hosted a PGA Championship, and 54 years since it hosted a U.S. Open, McIlroy fully understood how the venue’s defenses make par a good score, even as short as the course has become over the years because of technological advances. He wasn’t alone thinking that.
Phil Mickelson, who won the U.S. Amateur here in 1990, said Cherry Hills’ defenses remind him of how players made their scores at the Masters when he was first coming into the professional game.
“Actually, it reminds me of Augusta in the early ‘90s, where the course played very short, but the greens were the defenses,” said Mickelson, who opened with a 70. “The greens were very fast, very firm and very difficult to get the ball close. I think that was the defense of the golf course.”
Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson are among nine players a shot back. Stenson was among players still on the course when play was halted. He has just one hole left to play. The first round will resume at 11 a.m. local time with the second round scheduled to begin at 11:20 a.m.
Chris Kirk, the FedEx Cup points leader, opened with a 71.
Cherry Hills is a par 70 set up at 7,352 yards. With the course at a mile-high elevation, it plays even shorter than that.
“Though it’s not very long, it’s very, very brutal,” Garcia said.
Spieth was more than happy with his 67.
“It seemed like Cherry Hills here and the Tour didn’t want us going too low,” Spieth said.
McIlroy, No. 2 in FedEx Cup points behind Kirk, wants to head to the Tour Championship at East Lake next week in the best position possible to claim the $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot that barely eluded him two years ago. That’s why he was kicking himself for the two bogeys he made coming home Thursday.
At 5 under through 15 holes, with sole possession of the lead, McIlroy didn’t have a blemish on his scorecard until making back-to-back bogeys. He couldn’t get up and down from bunkers at No. 7 and No. 8, his 16th and 17th holes of the day.
“A little frustrated coming off the course,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I should have been better than what I finished. A sloppy bogey or two out there.”
McIlroy won a pair of FedEx Cup playoff events in 2012, but the big jackpot eluded him when Brandt Snedeker took it, winning the Tour Championship. McIlroy finished second in FedEx Cup points that year and says the disappointment of playing so well in the playoffs but falling short adds some fuel to his tank this year.