PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – The 7:22 a.m. PDT Thursday tee time off No. 10 at the Genesis Open featured Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods. It clearly was the headline pairing of the morning.
While Thomas lived up to the billing with a 2-under 69 and Woods still showed signs of his nearly yearlong absence with a 72, McIlroy shockingly seemed out of sorts with a fundamental part of the game: putting (scores).
The flatstick never has been a strength for the Northern Irishman, who nonetheless has racked up four major championships in his 20s. After two solid weeks in the Middle East – T-3 in Abu Dhabi and runner-up in Dubai – McIlroy seemed to have put those issues behind him.
A five-putt last week on the Monterey Peninsula led to a missed cut. His putting performance here Thursday at Riviera Country Club looked more like a low-budget horror film out of nearby Hollywood. McIlroy still faces issues on the greens. Officially, he needed 32 putts Thursday, but his total would be 35 including the three times that he putted from just off the green.
Is the issue the putter or the stroke? It’s uncertain. What did become clear during his even-par round was that McIlroy would rather be anywhere else than holding a putter.
His new pre-shot routine is interesting yet inexplicable. The stroke seems to have no creativity or feel. It’s more mechanical, but from a machine that badly needs lubrication.
When McIlroy made a 27-foot-11-inch eagle putt on the par-5 first hole, his 10th of the day – and his only holed putt longer than 5 feet – it could have been a building block. Instead, it was a rare highlight in a round that leaves him five strokes behind co-leaders Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau as McIlroy seeks his 14th victory on Tour, and first since the 2016 Tour Championship.
“I've hit good putts out there that just sort of slid by,” McIlroy said. “It's not as if I'm hitting wide; I'm not missing the hole by a few inches. It's sort of just sliding by the edges. So, it not too far off. I need a little bit of speed work and also technical work, and then hopefully the putts will drop.”
That’s certainly not a ringing endorsement for success this weekend.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli