Rory McIlroy was frustrated by his putting despite a solid start to his bid to complete a full set of World Golf Championship titles as Matt Fitzpatrick shared the clubhouse lead in the WGC-Workday Championship.
McIlroy carded an opening 69 to trail former Ryder Cup team-mate Fitzpatrick and American Webb Simpson by three shots at The Concession Golf Club, with Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel a shot off the lead.
Koepka’s 67 was 10 shots better than playing partner, Masters champion and world number one Dustin Johnson, who carded two birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys.
Victory on Sunday would make McIlroy the second player after Johnson to have won all four WGC titles and see him continue his impressive record of bouncing back from missed cuts.
McIlroy’s missed cut in the Genesis Invitational last week was his first since an emotional early exit from the 2019 Open Championship on home soil at Royal Portrush, but the 31-year-old’s record after his five most recent missed cuts includes two wins and a runners-up finish.
After starting from the 10th, McIlroy found himself four under par after 12 holes, but missed short par putts on the fourth and fifth and another from six feet for birdie on the eighth.
“I missed three putts on the last nine holes that I thought for sure were going to go right to left, and then I missed one on another hole that I gave a little less break as a reaction to those and that one dove and broke left,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.
“I felt like I got a good feeling with what I’m doing with the long game so I’ll hit a few balls to try to groove that in and I’ll go to the putting green to try to figure it out a bit.
“Of course it’s frustrating because you come off the course thinking you could be three or four shots lower than you were, but I’ve just got to keep putting the work in and hopefully it finds its way in there.
“I holed some good putts out there, it’s not that I didn’t hole anything, it’s just that I missed a few.”
Fitzpatrick, who was fifth in the Genesis Invitational last week, carded six birdies in a bogey-free round and said: “The golf course is in unbelievable shape, the greens are running about 12 on the stimp, that’s great for me. I love it when it’s like that.
“It’s a great golf course but the green complexes are challenging and I think that’s what protects it.”
World number seven Patrick Cantlay withdrew before the start of play due to illness.