Rory McIlroy didn't let a slow start at the WGC-HSBC Champions stunt his chances of contending for another trophy.
McIlroy was stuck at even par after nine holes Thursday, having turned a possible birdie into a bogey on the par-5 18th, and he was well off the pace heading to the second half of his opening round at Sheshan International Golf Club. But the Ulsterman found something on his inward half, reeling off five birdies in a six-hole stretch to surge into contention with a 5-under 67.
"Once I made the turn, things started to go for me a little bit more," McIlroy told reporters. "After nine (holes) I didn't expect to shoot 5 under par. But it's nice to shoot that score and get right into the tournament."
Instead of floundering near the back of the pack, McIlroy moved inside the top 10 and sits three shots off the lead of Haotong Li. His rally began at the par-5 second, which sparked a run of four straight birdies, and McIlroy added his eighth birdie of the day on No. 7.
It was the latest example of how quickly things can turn for the current world No. 2, whose late-season tear included a final-round 61 to win the RBC Canadian Open and a $15 million FedExCup victory at East Lake.
"Sometimes you feel it a little more than other times, and definitely got the momentum on that back nine today, and tried to sort of ride that momentum to the very end," he said. "It would have been nice to pick up one more, had a good chance for birdie. But after the start today, to shoot 5 under, I'm not complaining."
McIlroy arrived in China on the heels of a T-3 finish at the Zozo Championship, his fourth top-10 finish in five starts dating back to his win at East Lake. Still eager to close the gap with world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who remains sidelined with a knee injury, McIlroy is pleased to not face a sizeable deficit heading into the second round thanks to his late-round surge.
"The last few tournaments I've played, I've had a bad opening round and then been trying to play catch-up," McIlroy said. "At least now I'm right in the thick of things from the start, which is a better place to be."
Scorecard for player 29449 during event 18469. Round pinned: 1