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Bunker save on last hole helps McIlroy stay in contention

Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland Rory McIlroy - The Canadian Press

HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Rory McIlroy pumped his fist after his 10-foot putt dropped at the 18th hole at Royal Liverpool. It was only a par putt, but it felt like much more than that at the British Open.

Moments earlier Thursday he was standing up against the face of a bunker, with his right foot in the trap and the left dangling, potentially facing the kind of big score that could have ruined his first round and chances of finally ending a nine-year drought in the majors.

McIlroy pulled off an up-and-down to a big roar from the crowd, draining a 10-footer to close out an even-par round of 71 to stay five shots off the lead.

It could have been much worse.

Earlier in the round he was raising his putter toward his chest and dropping his head in despair after his putt inside 3 feet horseshoed around the cup at the eighth hole. He dropped three shots before making two late birdies and saving par at the 18th, when he needed two shots to leave the bunker.

“I wouldn’t have been too happy walking off the 18th with a bogey, especially after the two shots I hit in there,” McIlroy said. “I was probably hoping for a little bit more at the start of the day, but as I got out there and the conditions got a tiny bit tougher, being 2-over through 12 and getting it back to even par, I was pretty happy with that.”

McIlroy had some good looks at birdies and pars but the putter had failed him until he holed a 41-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th.

“I didn’t really get it going on the front nine. Was missing a few putts, and then missed that little one on the eighth hole,” he said. “A few putts started to go in on the back nine for me, which was nice to see. Hopefully I’ve got my eye in the line and I can build on that over the next three days.”

McIlroy was also erratic with his driver at times. His miss on the par-4 12th ended some 50 yards to the left of the fairway and led to a bogey.

His first birdie came on the par-4 second after he hit a driver into the gallery to the right but was able to recover with a nice approach to inside 4 feet. He also birdied the par-5 15th after an up-and-down from the front bunker.

“I think walking to the 13th tee I probably would have taken even par to finish the day,” said McIlroy, who won the Open wire-to-wire the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool in 2014. “That’s exactly where I ended up.”

McIlroy was coming off a win at the Scottish Open that moved him back to No. 2 in the world. He arrived at Hoylake with confidence after playing well in the last few months, having earned six consecutive finishes in the top 10 that included a runner-up finish in the U.S. Open last month.

The solid finish at Hoylake left McIlroy optimistic that he can still recover and finally end his run of 33 majors without a win.

“I needed to stay patient out there,” McIlroy said. “It wasn’t the easiest of days. But I’m still right in there. Just go out there in the morning, shoot something in the 60s, and I’ll hopefully be right in the mix.”


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