MEXICO CITY – All year, Rory McIlroy has put himself in position to end a winless streak that dates to his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March.
He finished in a tie for fourth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, tied for fifth in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and tied for fourth in last week’s Genesis Open in Los Angeles.
Things haven’t changed here in Mexico.
In Thursday’s first round of the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, McIlroy put himself atop the leaderboard with an 8-under-par 63, which was just one stroke off the tournament course record at Club de Golf Chapultepec set last year by Justin Thomas. He was also one shot clear of Dustin Johnson and three clear of Thomas and Matt Kuchar.
“I’m not putting myself under any pressure,” McIlroy said. “I’ve sort of got things in a really nice perspective. I think that’s probably 80 percent of the reason why I’m playing this good golf over the first few weeks of the year.
“I’m off to a great start this week, but I literally have taken each and every day this year one day at a time, and that’s the way I’m going to treat it not just this week but going forward.”
From the start, McIlroy electrified the fans who weren’t following Tiger Woods with massive drives, pinpoint iron play and an unwavering putter.
Starting on the back nine, he scored from 12 feet on the 11th, from 8 feet on 12. He racked up his third birdie from 4 feet on 15, his fourth red number coming from 3 feet on 17.
Then he hit his best shot, a long iron off the tee of the 316-yard, downhill first to six feet and made the putt for eagle. He added a birdie from four feet on the second and another from five feet on the fourth.
His worst shots came on the par-5 sixth hole, when his tee shot wound up in trees, his second clipped another tree and remained in the trees, and his fourth, a wedge from 112 yards, went 126 yards. He holed a tough 8-footer for bogey.
But he knocked down a 20-footer for birdie on the eighth.
“It felt pretty stress‑free,” McIlroy said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy. I hit a lot of good golf shots, left myself a lot of tap‑ins for birdies and had a nice eagle.”
The four-time major winner, who counts more than 25 worldwide titles on his resume and is ranked No. 8 in the world, has remained confident despite coming up empty the past seven times he played in the final group on Sunday.
That streak led to some biting criticism in some golf circles, but McIlroy just kept looking ahead. He sees his glass as half-full and little that has happened on the golf course has drained his confidence.
“Winning is a by‑product of doing all these things – practicing the right way, thinking well, training well, eating well, all this stuff that I try to do,” McIlroy said. “Winning is a by‑product of doing all the little things well and I feel like I’m on a really good journey of doing that. I think it’s just a matter of time before I win.”