Rory McIlroy’s challenge to return to world No 1 after a five-year absence began in promising style at Torrey Pines as he shot a five-under 67 to figure high on the Farmers Insurance Open leaderboard.
This was McIlroy’s first competitive round of 2020, but he showed little sign of rust following his six-week break. Granted, the 30-year-old played on the easier North Course and will face a much sterner test on the South Course on Friday, but his form off the tee was such that he should not and will not be daunted.
“If I could drive like that for the rest of the year, I’ll be very happy,” McIlroy said. “I had a few clunky chips and I felt there were some weak and tentative putts. So yeah, I left a few shots out there, but I have to be satisfied.
“Of course, there’s a long way to go and I’m not putting any pressure on myself, but I read a stat that I have never won in my first event of the year and, obviously, this would be a great week to change.”
Nothing else but the victory would be enough for him to displace Brooks Koepka at the top of the rankings, yet after his fifth place on his debut at the renowned San Diego club last year, he is clearly confident. “I feel I can improve each and every day this week,” McIlroy said, after posting seven birdies and two bogeys.
The round of the day had to be the remarkable six-under 66 by the Dane Sebastian Cappelen on the much tougher South Course. The world No 341, who finished sixth on the PGA Tour last week, made eight birdies to take the early advantage.
Three back stands Tiger Woods, who has his own extra incentive to lift the title on Sunday. Not only has he already prevailed a record eight times at the resort where his father used to take him as a child, but another triumph would see him claim the outright record for the most number of PGA Tour wins in history with 83.
“Overall, I’m pleased to shoot something in the 60s today as this course was definitely gettable today,” Woods said after his own opening round of the year. “It felt good and my sight lines were a little tighter. There is a lot of positives heading into the South Course.”