It was a delayed beginning to Rory McIlroy’s opening round and a stagnant start once it finally got going at the DS Automobiles Italian Open.
His finish, however, provided lots of momentum heading into Day 2.
Lightning pushed back times an hour on Thursday in Rome, Italy. When McIlroy eventually set out, he made bogey on his second hole (the par-4 11th). He got that shot back with a birdie at the par-4 16th, but returned it with a bogey at No. 17.
Over par on his round, McIlroy finally generated a spark at the par-4 third, his 12th of the day, holing his approach shot for eagle.
Asked after his round what he was thinking about his day prior to his perfect approach, McIlroy responded, "Probably that I shouldn't have stayed up so late last night. Felt like I was still half-asleep playing that front nine. But, yeah, I think that eagle obviously ignited something and sort of kick-started my round a little bit. I played some really good golf coming in."
That flipped him from 1 over to 1 under. A birdie two holes later got him to 2 under on the day and within two of the lead at the time. He followed that with another birdie at the par-4 eighth, an 18-footer that slipped in on the left edge, and an easy birdie at the last, the par-5 ninth.
With a 4-under 67, McIlroy shared the clubhouse lead when he signed his card. He was tied with five others who finished their rounds and two who did not. Because of the delayed start, the opening round wasn't completed on Thursday. Matthew Fitzpatrick, through 15 holes when the horn blew, was the lone player at 5 under par.
McIlroy is competing for the second-consecutive week on the DP World Tour. He finished a shot back of champion Shane Lowry at the BMW PGA Championship before making the trek to Marco Simone to get a sneak peek at the 2023 Ryder Cup venue.
McIlroy said he didn't get much sleep Wednesday night because he had a late dinner with European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, assistant captains Edoardo Molinari and Thomas Bjorn, as well as potential players Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland and Fitzpatrick, among others.
"It was good to catch up and talk about the golf course and talk about – Edoardo is doing our stats for us – to talk about what we excel at and what the Americans excel at and try to set the golf course up in a way that suits us more than them," McIllroy said.
And how might that be?
"I think stats-wise, you look at [the] American team, they are very good sort of from 150 [yards] in, so try to set the golf course up [to where] it's a challenge to get your tee shots within that range. You'll see even this year, compared to last year, some of the tee shots have been brought in and the rough has been brought in on either sides. You've got bunkers that you can carry at 300 or 310 [yards], but the angle it's created is very, very tight and you're hitting into smaller windows," McIlroy said.
"I think by forcing people to play more conservative off the tee, I think that helps the Europeans a little bit. So I think that's part of the strategy for next year."
As for McIlroy's strategy the next three days to try and win the Italian Open, it's pretty simple: "If I can get the ball in the fairway the next three days, I should have a chance."