NAPA (California) • Rory McIlroy opened his 2015-16 United States PGA Tour campaign by shooting a four-under 68 to finish five strokes off the lead after the first round of the Frys.com Open on Thursday.
The four-time Major winner hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and, if not for a couple of missed short birdie putts, he would have been that much closer to leader Brendan Steele.
American Steele drained nine birdies en route to a 63 in perfect scoring conditions at the Silverado North course for a one-shot lead over Jhonattan Vegas.
Harold Varner and Scotland's Martin Laird are two shots back of the leader after shooting 65s.
South Korea's D. H. Lee and Justin Thomas both carded 66, while England's Justin Rose and Canada's Graham DeLaet highlight a group of six golfers on 67.
McIlroy looked much better on Thursday than he did at the Tour Championship three weeks ago.
He rebounded from an early bogey with two birdies on his outward nine, then picked up three more shots after the turn to climb into the upper reaches of the leaderboard in the idyllic surrounds of Silverado Country Club.
"I converted a few," the Northern Irishman said, "but I'll need to hole a few more. Definitely a step in the right direction."
The world No. 3 is the highest-ranked player in the field.
His last victory on the PGA Tour was at the Wells Fargo Championship tournament in May.
"It was better from tee to green than I was at the Tour Championship," said McIlroy of his opening round. "Just didn't hole that many putts. Holed a few. If I can get the putter going a little bit over the next three days, hopefully I can get up the leaderboard."
Steele is looking to improve on his 50th-place finish in the FedExCup standings last season.
On Thursday, he got off on the right foot by making birdie on seven of his first nine holes and needing just 26 putts overall.
"Why did I shoot 63?" Steele said. "Well, I think I only missed one green. I would say that's a good start."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 5am