Cold putter neutralises McIlroy's hot driver

SHANGHAI • Super-long hitter Rory McIlroy put a new driver in his bag yesterday, and the bad news for everyone else is that he can blast it even further off the tee.

A cold putter kept the Northern Irishman from threatening the top of the first-round leader board at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. But the FedExCup champion was impressive off the tee.

Playing partner Bubba Watson, one of the game's longest hitters, could only watch as McIlroy used his new driver to boom the ball past him time and again en route to an opening one-under 71, seven shots behind leader Rikard Karlberg.

McIlroy's equipment supplier Nike's decision earlier this year to stop making clubs means he is now free to choose the weapons that suit his game best. For the first time this week, that includes the Taylor Made M2 driver, also utilised by the world's two top-ranked players Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, no slouches off the tee themselves.

"I felt like I drove the ball really well," world No. 3 McIlroy said after his round on a cool, damp day at Sheshan International Golf Club which was not conducive to big hitting. "Look, I've been driving the ball well anyway, but yeah, it was nice to see the ball flying."

He tweeted a picture last week from practice in Dubai that showed he was regularly carrying his drives over 330 yards with the new club.

But McIlroy, who was solid from tee to green, just could not hole a putt of any length yesterday.

"Greens are soft and obviously there're a lot of footprints. I did everything okay. I just didn't really get any momentum going," he said.

Other favourites struggled too. World No. 2 and US Open champion Johnson toiled to a 74, as did Masters champion Danny Willett. PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker had a nightmare 78.

US Ryder Cup star Rickie Fowler fired a 65 to lie one shot off the lead.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Cold putter neutralises McIlroy's hot driver'. Print Edition | Subscribe