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Scrappy McIlroy rolls with the punches to strong PGA Championship start

A gritty performance from Rory McIlroy saw him four shots back of the clubhouse lead on Thursday, as the Northern Irishman carded a fine, five-under par 66 in the opening round of the PGA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky.

McIlroy arrived at Valhalla Golf Club on the heels of back-to-back wins and absorbed everything that the course could throw at him, with six birdies and one bogey.

"Felt like (the round) was pretty scrappy for the most part," he said. "I don't really feel like I left many out there. I thought I got a lot out of my game today."

He started on the back nine with birdies on the par-five 10 and the par-four 13, but landed in the bunker twice for a bogey on 17.

He looked as though he was on course for another disappointment on 18 when he sent one into the water. But he held his nerve and made a terrific up-and-down to salvage par and keep the momentum going.

The drama continued when he whacked the flagstick en route to a birdie on the next hole.

"It was huge," he told reporters. "I could have easily bogeyed 18 and been back to even par, and then again, that ball on one could have hit the flagstick and went anywhere.

"I could have made bogey from that. Potentially being one-over par through 10, I'm two-under. So it's a three-shot difference. It's a big swing."

McIlroy is trying to end a 10-year major drought while blocking out unwanted attention on his personal life, after the shock announcement this week that he was ending his seven-year marriage and had filed for divorce.

He deflected questions about his concentration on Thursday, telling reporters: "Happy to be here."

"It's always nice to be inside the ropes," he said.

Read more on channelnewsasia.com