By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Rory McIlroy on Thursday said he is trying not to play too fast at golf’s first major tournament of the year even as the absence of fans allows rounds to be completed more quickly.
The Northern Irishman’s four birdies offset four bogeys as he carded an even-par 70 in the opening round of the PGA Championship in San Francisco, which is being played without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the things that’s come out of not having fans is the rounds have been a little faster,” he said.
“You don’t have to wait for people to settle down, especially when you’re hitting it in the rough all day like I was. So that’s been a nice thing.”
“Certainly I have to remind myself all the time to slow down whether it’s a major or not. I think most people would say they play their best golf when they are slightly relaxed, not too intense.”
McIlroy appeared relaxed as he chatted with Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas during the group’s round at TPC Harding Park, at one point even discussing with Woods whether the Major League Baseball season would continue if more players tested positive for the virus.
But he also had moments of carelessness, like when he missed a makeable par-putt on the par-four sixth hole by hitting the ball too hard.
World number three McIlroy, who is gunning for his third PGA Championship and fifth major overall, said he was happy to be grouped with Thomas and Woods. All three have homes in Florida.
“We all know each other and play a lot when we are at home, so that makes it a comfortable grouping,” he said.
And while he said he’s gotten used to playing without fans since the PGA Tour resumed in June, he said it was still strange to hear Woods’ name announced at the beginning of the round and it to be met with silence.
“It’s still funny, you know, ’99, 2000, 2006, 2007, PGA Champion, Tiger Woods! And then there’s nothing.
“That’s pretty interesting. That’s definitely different. We’ve got used to it.
“That’s the way it’s going to be for the foreseeable future, unfortunately, and yeah, at this point, everyone I think has adapted and got used to the environment that we are playing in.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Christopher Cushing)