When world No 1 Rory McIlroy stepped onto the tee at 7.05am this morning, the weather was not dissimilar to that of a summer day in his hometown of Holywood just outside Belfast in Northern Island.
Temperature was just under 20 degrees and windy. Not a gale, mind you, but enough to tamper with both the mind and the flight of the ball as the 2014 Emirates Australian Open got underway.
As the morning progressed, light misty rain dampened the players, but not McIlroy’s spirit as the putts simply refused to drop for him on his opening nine holes that were the back nine of The Australian GC’s Kensington layout.
Twelve months when the championship developed into that epic battle between McIlroy and local hero and the reigning US Masters champion Adam Scott at Royal Sydney, it was the latter who had the early morning wakeup call.
Conditions that day were benign, and Scott made hay in the early morning sunshine with six straight birdies to open proceedings. He signed for a 10-under par 62 and more or less said over to you Rory.
McIlroy then signed for a 69, seven behind Scott, in far more demanding conditions.
But, while the morning conditions today might have been less that ideal, it soon became increasingly apparent that the general rule of thumb in golf – better an early tee-time than a late one – might hold good.
McIlroy turned level par and then collected three birdies against just one bogey in the run home to finish with a two-under 69 that, all things considered, was more than acceptable.
As McIlroy was putting out on the ninth hole, making his third birdie from less than two metres, Scott was teeing off from the first to begin his day on course.
As the 25-year-old Ulsterman was he was driven to the media centre for his interview, Scott was in trouble from the very start. He’d blocked his drive into the trees where there was no other avenue than to get his ball back in play than simply chip out.
Scott wrote a double-bogey six on his card and, on the fourth, he made bogey to be three over the card. His latest trial caddie Zimbabwean Mike Kerr looked as though he was going to have a tough initiation to the Scott bag.
McIlroy, who flew into Sydney from Dubai on Monday evening, is still suffering a touch of jetlag – and it was a 4.30 wakeup call today to meet his early time.
So, understandably he was happy with his score.
“The conditions were pretty tricky. It was tough to get the ball close to the pins with the wind and these greens (are) quite firm as well,” he said.
“I thought anything under par today was a decent score and it was nice to birdie the last and shoot something in the ‘60s. It puts me right there going into tomorrow.
“I definitely thought there was a better score out there. I gave myself a lot of chances early on … and didn’t really take them,” he said of missing putts, all from inside three metres, on the opening three holes.
McIlroy agreed the weather was very similar to that of home, apart from the golf course, that is. For where he hails from it’s true linksland while The Australian is a Jack Nicklaus-designed American type course minus the collars of rough around the greens.
“I think of playing golf in Australia and Sydney, (well) it’s not the typical day I’d think of, so hopefully that’s the worst out of the way … for the week,” McIlroy said.
As world No 1, the Northern Irishman is just so obliging, just as Scott is. There are a number of world No 1s who preceded them who’ve been not quite so courteous when dopey questions are tossed their way.
And, of course, Tiger Woods never gave anything of himself to the point where many of my colleagues turned against him after a well-publicised encounter with a fire hydrant..
Or, then you had a world No 1 like Greg Norman, who would comment on world politics and the like without being tossed a bit of burly to add to the baited hook thrown in my the media.
McIlroy admitted yesterday he hasn’t yet got the recognition factor of say a Norman, Nicklaus or Woods in public places but give it time. Many believe he has more chance of beating the Nicklaus record of 18 majors than Woods who has been stalled on 14 since the 2008 US Open.
But, he was going out shopping this afternoon to see if anyone recognised him, nor was he going to the practice range. No, the jetlag was really kicking in and he was heading back to his hotel from a little kip.