Published On: Fri, Feb 5th, 2021

Rory McIlroy fights back after nightmare opening at the Waste Management Open

As he stood on the third tee on three-over in the first round of the Waste Management Open, Rory McIlroy might have been forgiven for fearing that the golfing gods – with all their lofty representatives on Earth – were paying him back for Wednesday’s withering criticisms of the game’s governing bodies. Yet with a commendable fightback, featuring five birdies and one bogey in the remaining 16 holes, McIlroy rose from the ashes in Phoenix. With the clubhouse leader, Matthew Nesmith, on eight-under, his challenge for what would be his first title in 14 months could hardly be classed as being on fire, but he had, at least, battled his way out of the flames following that nightmare opening two holes comprising a double-bogey and a bogey. There was another factor to console him at the TPC Scottsdale after he signed for a 71. After going as far as to accuse the R&A and US Golf Associations of “reeking of self-importance” for announcing their intention to curtail hitting distances, McIlroy actually received a conciliatory response from St Andrews HQ. "We have said all along that we were going to conduct this process openly and invite feedback from serious voices throughout golf,” the R&A said in a joint statement. "So we welcome the contributions from players and others involved in the sport and will take them into consideration as we move forward on this important subject.” It is accepted that 48in drivers will be banned in the next few months – the maximum is to be reduced to 46in and will, in reality, affect very few pros – but the debate concerning the proposed limitations on the ball and the club-faces will go on until and, of course, after the November deadline. Trying to tame golf's power hitters is an over-reaction that will damage the sport's sense of wonder McIlroy has now put himself at the centre of this saga – which is slightly curious as he has stated his support for the emphasis to be put back on skill rather than technology – and this will be another hot topic on which he will be bombarded in the forthcoming months. The focus surely should be on arresting his majorless run that is running into its seventh season. At the Saudi International, nobody was more surprised to see David Horsey leading after the first round as the world No 208 himself. The 35-year-old from Stockport shot a nine-under 61, to leave the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey in his shadow.

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