On the 20th shot of his opening round at the Memorial Tournament, Rory McIlroy tweaked his left knee when his spikes got stuck in the ground. For the rest of the day, McIlroy said, his thought process was stripped to the bare essentials: find the fairways, hit the ball close and make the putts.
No amount of emotional or physical distress seems capable of slowing McIlroy, who carded a 9-under-par 63 at Muirfield Golf Club to take a three-stroke lead over Paul Casey, Chris Kirk and Bubba Watson. Since he broke off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki last week, McIlroy has averaged 67.4 strokes in five competitive rounds. He came here fresh off his first victory on the European Tour since 2012.
The more his knee swelled and throbbed, the better McIlroy scored. He was 7-under - with two eagles on par 5s - after suffering the injury, his second in two weeks. During the second round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, he hurt his back, and responded with scores of 69 and 66 on the weekend.
Asked how he overcame the physical discomfort, McIlroy, 25, said he used the time between shots to walk off the pain.
"And when you're over the shot, you're not thinking about your knee, you're thinking about the shot at hand and what you're trying to do with it," he said.
The only blemish on McIlroy's scorecard was a double bogey at the par-4 14th after his second shot plugged in a greenside bunker and his thirdÂ shot did not clear the sand.
What was he thinking then?
"About how sore my knee was going to be after I hit my tee shot on 15 really hard," McIlroy said with a laugh.
He got back the two strokes he dropped when he hit his second shot, using a 5-iron, to 15 feet and made the putt.
"I made a bit of a mess of 14, but it was nice to get those couple of shots back straightaway," McIlroy said.
The day produced other arresting sights. Phil Mickelson, who played in the group directly ahead of McIlroy, made the turn at 4-under 32 before ballooning to a 40 on the back. Keegan Bradley, who has used the soon-to-be-illegal belly putter for all three of his PGA Tour victories, including the 2011 PGA Championship, posted a 67 using a short putter on the advice of his mother.
"I just decided I think that this is a good week to try it," said Bradley, who had 28 putts.
As was true last week on the European Tour, McIlroy attracted the most attention because of the maturity he showed on the course in the wake of his surprise announcement that he was backing out of his November wedding to Wozniacki because he was not ready for the responsibilities of marriage.
McIlroy said there was no correlation between his bad breakup and good play.
"My game's been in good shape," he said. "And this has been coming."
He added, "Just really happy with my game, happy with how I played, and just trying to keep this going for the rest of the week."
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