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Rory McIlroy’s good US Open start could spark end to 10-year Major drought

McIlroy US Open 1

Inspired by playing alongside top rivals, Rory McIlroy grabbed a share of the US Open lead Thursday, saying he has boosted his chances to end a 10-year major win drought.

The 35-year-old Northern Ireland star, who last won a major at the 2014 PGA Championship, fired a bogey-free five-under-par 65 to match ninth-ranked American Patrick Cantlay for the first-round lead at Pinehurst.

“I went through a run there for a while where my starts at major championships weren’t very good. Probably got myself a little too worked up at the start of the week,” McIlroy said.

“Certainly the major championships I’ve won, or the ones I’ve played well at, I’ve always seemed to get off to a good start, and it’s nice to get off to another one.”

‘Same golfer’

The four-time major winner has had increasing better US Open results for the past five years, including last year’s runner-up effort to American Wyndham Clark.

“I feel like I’m the same player. I was hitting the ball really good,” he said. “If anything, I’d say my iron play is maybe a touch better this year just looking at the stats. But overall I feel like I’m pretty much the same golfer.”

McIlroy was helped by playing in a feature group of the world’s three top-ranked players with top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, who opened on 71, and second-ranked Xander Schauffele, who shot 70.

“I enjoy playing in these groups,” McIlroy said. “When you’ve been out here for 16 or 17 years, sometimes you need a little extra to get the juices going, and being in a group like that definitely helps.”

Third-ranked McIlroy was the class of the trio, but you wouldn’t have seen satisfaction on his grim game-face.

“Just super conservative with my strategy and my game,” he said. “With my demeanor, just trying to be super stoic. Just trying to be as even-keeled as I possibly can be.

“I really feel like that’s the thing that has served me well in these US Opens over the past few years, just trying to be 100% committed to the shots and 100% committed to having a good attitude.”

‘Patience rewarded’

It helps that McIlroy finds Pinehurst and its many options of how to attack tricky dome-shaped greens as something from his youth.

“It sort of brings me back to links golf when I was a kid a little bit,” he said. “The greens are a bit more sort of slopey and there’s a bit more movement on them, but there’s options. You can chip it. You can putt it. I’d love if we played more golf courses like this.

“It’s a lot different than the golf that we play week in, week out. I really appreciate that. Just becoming more of a student of the game again and I think because of that I’ve started to embrace golf courses and setups like this.”

Hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation doesn’t hurt his enjoyment, either.

“Just trying to hit it into the middles of greens and giving yourself chances every single time, taking your medicine if you do hit it into trouble,” McIlroy said.

“My short game was good early on. It was a really controlled round of golf.”

McIlroy kept his composure even when stuck in a string of pars from 11 through 15.

“I could have got a little impatient, but I felt like my patience was rewarded there with birdies on two of the last three holes,” McIlroy said.

“It was really nice to finish like that. A nice bit of momentum going into the morning round tomorrow.”