McIlroy actually had a chance to make an eagle out of the par-five 18th, but by then he’d raised the mood enough in the 25,000-strong sold-out chants to ensure it was his name that put them in the stands. chanted.
“Rory, Rory, Rory,” it sounded as the gloomy atmosphere gave way to the overwhelming positivity at McIlroy’s performance.
The Northern Irishman paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, whose passing was respected by Friday’s canceled game and the fact that the £7 million tournament was reduced to 54 holes. “She was such a stable figure,” he said. “I saw a statistic yesterday that she took the throne the year before Ben Hogan won his Open Championship.
“So it just shows you how long she’s been around and what she’s seen. That level of duty, and to do it with the dignity, dedication and grace she has, she was an absolutely incredible woman.
“I was very lucky, I met her a few years ago and she couldn’t have been nicer. A beautiful moment for me. I have a photo of that at home next to my MBE that I am very proud of.”
McIlroy was adamant that the Tour was right to continue the tournament. “I thought it was the right decision,” he said. “I don’t think we’re disrespecting anyone by playing. Hopefully we’ll show our respect and celebrate what an incredible life the Queen had.”
At 9:50 a.m. a two-minute silence was observed and the players and caddies wore black ribbons. Kjeldsen was the star of the morning, bouncing back from his bogey on the first to catch seven birdies and an eagle.
‘In an exciting position’
Inevitably, however, it was McIlroy – in his first start since winning the £16m FedEx Cup last month – who stole the show, finishing fourth on his approach from 205 yards to 10 feet and then picking up three birdies for the final two holes. McIlroy was suitably modest about his remarkable ricochet.
“I Told Harry” [Diamond, caddie] ‘it’s gone, throw me another ball’ but it hit some branches – I saw the big ruts,” he said. “Billy [Horschel] said to me, ‘Who did you pay to throw the ball there? Where’s your wallet?’ I said to him, “It’s too heavy – I put it in the locker.” It was a three-shot swing.
“Between that and my putting, it has put me in an exciting position. I haven’t played any LIV events [contested over 54 holes] but I’m curious how it feels. There are so many guys at the top of the standings, it will be a sprint to the finish.”