The U.S. Open will always be the first major tournament that Rory McIlroy ever won. Assuming that designation has a special place in his heart, the 2013 US Open at Merion Golf Club this week will be a place to both reflect on success and build for the future.
It's also a place for revenge after missing the cut at the Open last year.
McIlroy was one of a number of golfers who had to head to the clubhouse early on Thursday evening, as darkness fell on Merion after two separate suspensions of play knocked the time frame back considerably to the point that play had to be halted by the USGA.
Despite the early finish, McIlroy has to be happy with his opening round.
Through 11 holes, McIlroy is tied for 16th at even par, staying near the top of the leaderboard that is currently home for Luke Donald (-4), Phil Mickelson (-3) and a slew of other golfers that includes 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott at two-under.
Tiger Woods is at two-over with holes to complete tomorrow in his first round before moving to the second.
Here's a look at McIlroy's 11-hole scorecard from Thursday afternoon/evening. (Note: Birdies are listed (as such), while bogeys are listed [as such].
Although Donald has the early lead, there's no doubt the rest of the field is very much alive. McIlroy was the last golfer to win the open after leading after the first round, so he knows just how hard it is to hang on to the lead at the Open (via ESPN's Stats & Info):
What does an 18-hole lead mean at the U.S. Open? Not much. Just once over last 10 yrs (Rory McIlroy in 2011) has the 18-hole leader won.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 13, 2013
After suspension of play pushed the trio of McIlroy, Scott and Woods back to later in the afternoon, McIlroy managed to stay even through the first three holes.
He did miss an opportunity to strike on No. 1, as noted by PGA Tour on Twitter:
Tiger (3-putt) and Rory (missed short birdie attempt) missed opportunities at No. 1. Tune in to ESPN to watch live @USOpenGolf coverage.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 13, 2013
The Irish star then changed his fortunes for the better on No. 2, picking up a much-needed par in a tough spot. ESPN's Mike Hill had the tweet:
Tiger gets the shot back on 2 w/a birdy putt on the par 5 2nd. Even for the round #USOpen Rory saved par w/a nice putt on the same hole.— Mike Hill (@MikeHillESPN) June 13, 2013
He broke through on No. 4, where he earned his first birdie of the day and moved under par with a very select few group of golfers who finished in that spot by the end of the round.
A setback then occurred on No. 6, though, as he struggled to keep up his pace from the opening five holes. With a bogey there, he moved back to even par heading to hole No. 7.
In true champion's fashion, though, McIlroy found a way to respond on the hole directly following his bogey. He found the green and finished with a birdie at seven, once again moving under par and staying ahead of the curve set by most of the golfers in the field.
SportsNewsIreland had the tweet as their countryman moved into early contention:
McIlroy answers, birdie time, Tiger misses a tap in twenty footer #usopengolf— SportsNewsIRELAND (@SportsNewsIRE) June 13, 2013
A bogey at No. 11 as the darkness set in ended up souring an otherwise solid round of golf for McIlroy, but sitting at even after 11 holes isn't a bad position to be in at all. For a reference point, current leader Donald birdied No. 12 and No. 13 before his day was done.
As noted by Joe Fortenbaugh, his championship odds are still relatively high:
Updated U.S. Open odds from LVH: Mick/Scott 11/2, Donald 7/1, Tiger 12/1, Rory 15/1, Schwartzel/Westwood 20/1. #Merion— Joe Fortenbaugh (@JoeFortenbaugh) June 14, 2013
No. 13 has also been one of the best holes of the day for the field, with the short distance from the tee box lending a birdie that the majority of the leaders have captured—and need—in a tournament like this.
All in all, McIlroy will have a tough day ahead of him with 25 holes to play on Friday and the unpredictability of the course likely one of the major concerns for all the golfers who didn't finish their round on Thursday.
Given his recent struggles and inconsistent play, though, an even round at a major championship is a huge boost for the one-time winner—even if only 11 holes were completed.
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