(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy was in control of all facets of his game as he charged into the first-round lead with a six-under-par 65 at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Thursday.
McIlroy smashed his drives prodigious distances in the thin Mexico City air and complemented his long game with precise putting in earning a two-shot advantage over Americans Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
“I like this place, like the golf course, and have always played well at altitude for whatever reason that is,” said the world number one after capping off his day by sinking a 10-foot birdie at the last.
McIlroy won the World Golf Championships (WGC) tournament in Shanghai in November and victory this week would see him complete the set of all four WGC events.
The Northern Irishman has been in stellar form early in the new PGA Tour season, with a tie for fifth in Los Angeles on Sunday his worst result in four starts.
Accuracy from the tee is crucial at the tree-lined Club de Golf Chapultepec but McIlroy did not hold back, hitting three drives of more than 365 yards.
But it was his putting that pleased him most a week after an ill-fated experiment with a 35-inch model that was slightly longer than his usual putter.
“Once I got out there (last week), that inch difference with the putter moves your eye line and you stop seeing your lines the way you usually do,” he said.
“I saw the tournament through with it. It didn’t work quite the way I wanted so … happy to have old faithful back in the bag and it worked well today.
“It was definitely validation to going back to the putter I’d been using for the last 14 months. If I keep putting like that, I’ll be very happy.”
Nipping at McIlroy’s heels, Thomas and Watson both mixed five birdies with one bogey in shooting 67 as they bounced back from missing the cut last week.
“I’ve had two 62s here, and you can get it going,” said Thomas, already a two-times winner on Tour this season.
“I felt like today was tough. I’ve never played this place with this kind of wind.”
Two-times Masters champion Watson, who enjoyed a round with pop star Justin Bieber last weekend after missing the cut at the Genesis Invitational, had better luck on the greens on Thursday.
“I just made some putts today. The only thing that was missing last week when I missed the cut was I didn’t make any putts,” Watson said.
At the other end of the field, defending champion Dustin Johnson ran up four bogeys and a double in a 76 that left him equal 62nd in the 72-man field.
(Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)