The opening round of the WGC-Mexico Championship is in the books, and it was a day in which Rory McIlroy reaffirmed exactly why he is the World No.1 once again. After a disappointing final-round for McIlroy at the Genesis last week, he would have been keen to come out firing yesterday and he did exactly that, beginning on the 10th tee. After an opening par, it didn’t take long for McIlroy to show his best stuff as he hit the 621-yard, Par-5 11th in two, sticking his approach to 16ft which he subsequently drained for eagle. It was largely plain sailing from there with one more birdie and six pars to close out his front-nine, before firing four birdies to one bogey on his back-9 and parring the other three. Three of those four birdies came in his last four holes, so he is taking plenty of momentum heading into Friday. Statistically he ranked inside the top-5 in SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Putting and SG: Tee-to-Green, as well as 10th in SG: Approach and if he keeps up that level of play, it can only be ominous for the rest of the field.
Elsewhere, three more major champions in Bubba Watson (-4), Justin Thomas (-4) and Louis Oosthuzien (-3) are queuing up behind the World No.1, as are Billy Horschel, Bryson DeChambeau and Corey Conners, all of whom are three-under-par as well. Watson in particular had a great day, as he finished his round with a career-best 21 putts and he will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing missed cut at Riviera last week, as will Thomas.
The biggest shock of the day had to be Dustin Johnson’s struggles, as he limped to a disappointing round of 76 (+5), his worst round on this course by some distance. This was the first time the American failed to break par on this course in three starts, and was also the first time since his opening round 70 on debut in 2017 that he failed to shoot in the 60’s. He only made one birdie on the day, which came on the 303 yard 1st, where he stuck his tee shot to 8ft, failing to sink the putt for eagle. It was a bad day all round for his game but only four players in the field putted worse than he did yesterday, so whilst we can expect a turnaround in form today, it appears his race is already run.
Although the field may well be disheartened with the best player in the world already two strokes ahead, they should take some solace from the fact that all three winners of this event, since the move to Mexico have come from off the pace. Johnson was three off the lead after round one in 2017, play-off protagonists, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas were an alarming five and eight strokes off the lead respectively in 2018 with the former ultimately winning, and Johnson was again one behind McIlroy last year, before romping home to win by five, so there’s still plenty to play for.