Rory McIlroy’s late eagle put him in a tie for first place in the BMW Championship opening round with world No. 1 Jon Rahm and American Sam Burns on Thursday.
In his eight-under par 64 at Caves Valley Golf Club in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, Rahm, the defending champion in the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events on the US PGA Tour, scored eight birdies.
Burns also played bogey-free on the rain-softened course, making eight birdies in a row from the 11th to the 14th.
McIlroy teed off late and quickly caught up to the leaders with a remarkable eagle at the par-five 16th, where his 285-yard second shot from the fairway left him with an 11-footer.
He described his approach as “as good as I can hit a three-wood.”
He claimed the eagle was particularly satisfying because he had been playing par-fives “quite poorly” in recent weeks.
“Even on the front nine today, I was thinking, “Here we go again,” because I didn’t make birdie on any of the front-nine par-fives.
“It felt good to play the par-fives a little better on the back nine.”
The Northern Ireland star, who is currently ranked 16th in the world, added seven birdies and one bogey to his four major victories.
He matched his lowest round of the season — a 64 in the final round of the Phoenix Open in February – by hitting 13 of 14 fairways in regulation.
His four birdies on the front nine included a 30-foot putt at the seventh hole, a boost for a player who admitted this week that he was feeling the effects of a busy schedule that included the British Open and Tokyo Olympics in July, as well as the weather-delayed Northern Trust, which ended on Monday.
“There are a lot of great indications out there,” said McIlroy, who came into Cave Valley with a playoff point total of 28th.
Only the top 30 players in the standings proceed to the Tour Championship, which concludes the playoffs.
RAHM IS BACK ON TRACK
With his first successful US PGA Tour title defense, Rahm, who won this event last year at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, may go into the Tour Championship atop the standings.
The Spaniard recovered flawlessly from a dismal finish at the Northern Trust, when he led for much of the tournament but finished third after the final round was postponed due to a cyclone.
That was just the latest quirk in Rahm’s season, which saw him win his first major at the US Open but also had to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament with a six-shot lead due to a positive Covid-19 test.
He was also unable to compete in the Olympics due to a positive Covid test.
“Be a goldfish,” he joked, referencing sitcom hero Ted Lasso, as the secret to his resiliency. ” (A goldfish’s) memory is only good for ten seconds.
“I had a tremendous round of golf last week, with only a few of bad strokes down the stretch, and that’s the most important thing to keep in mind.”
The 26-year-old Spaniard claims that his forced vacation is helping him now, especially with the hot heat in Baltimore.
“Those people who went to the Olympics and played Memphis and played more events than me might be a little bit exhausted,” he continued, “but that shouldn’t be an excuse in my case.”
Sergio Garcia of Spain made seven birdies without making a bogey on his way to a seven-under 65, one stroke behind the leaders.
On six-under 66, Abraham Ancer of Mexico and Patrick Cantlay of the United States tied for fifth place. Cantlay climbed the leaderboard with a run of five consecutive birdies from the 12th to the 16th holes.
The group of a dozen players on 67, which included Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, took another stroke back.