Thursday's golf: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm part of 3-way tie for lead at Caves Valley

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Owings Mills, Md. — Rory McIlroy found his energy level low amid the busy schedule and stifling summer heat. A good night of sleep and posting his lowest start in nearly a year at the BMW Championship on Thursday seemed to do the trick.

McIlroy holed an eagle putt from just outside 10 feet on the par-5 16th at Caves Valley on his way to an 8-under 64, giving him a share of the lead with Jon Rahm and Sam Burns.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy tees off on the 13th hole during the first round of the BMW Championship on Thursday at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md.

Three days after heaving his 3-wood over the fence on his final hole at Liberty National, McIlroy used his new club – an old 3-wood he found in his garage – to smash a 285-yard shot up the hill and over a bunker that set up his eagle putt to move into a share of the lead.

McIlroy hasn’t opened with a score this low since a 64 at the Tour Championship last year, and that’s where he’s trying to return. He is No. 28 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 30 after the BMW Championship make it to East Lake.

“I’ve went through playoff stretches before where you’re always in that lead group. You’re either 1, 2 or 3 in the FedEx Cup, and that can sort of take its mental toll,” he said. “I’m in a position where I need to play well just to play next week. There is an element of free-wheeling.”

As for Rahm, he is rested and relentless as ever.

The U.S. Open champion and world No. 1 had five birdies on the front and kept bogeys off his card for a 64. It was the 15th time in his last 17 rounds dating to Sunday at the PGA Championship that he shot in the 60s.

Rahm is coming off a third-place finish in the FedEx Cup playoffs opener last week at Liberty National, losing a two-shot lead on the back nine. That might have bothered him more in the past, except that he was thrilled for Tony Finau, and he’s become a fan of Ted Lasso.

The Spaniard as strong as a bull prefers to be a goldfish.

“Happiest animal in the world is a goldfish. You know why? He’s got a 10-second memory,” Rahm said, reciting a famous line from the Ted Lasso series. “Played great golf last week, just a couple of bad swings down the stretch, and that’s the most important thing to remember.”

Burns also played bogey-free in posting his fourth score of 64 in his last eight rounds. While he’s set for the Tour Championship, a big week at Caves Valley might make him a popular topic for one of the six captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup.

It’s a tough position for several players either trying to get the sixth and final automatic spot on the U.S. team this week, or at least get Captain Steve Stricker’s attention. Burns is among those trying to think only of task at hand, whatever that may be.

“Right now I’m focused on trying to give you the best answer I can, and after that I’ll try to figure out what I want to eat and just continue to do that over and over,” Burns said.

What’s for lunch?

“I haven’t seen the menu,” he said.

Players were feasting on Caves Valley, just like they did at Liberty National last week, and that was to be expected. The course was soft from the rain Hurricane Henri dropped over the weekend, and players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the short grass.

Eighteen players were at 67 or lower, a group that included Sergio Garcia (65), Patrick Cantlay (66) and Finau, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson (67).

Is there anything to stop the best in the world?

“Not a course that has fairways this wide,” Cantlay said.

Finau won The Northern Trust last week in a playoff after he and Cameron Smith finished at 20-under 264. That looks to be what it will take at Caves Valley in these conditions.

It was hot, dry and fast at Olympia Fields south of Chicago last year in the BMW Championship. Rahm won a playoff over Dustin Johnson at 4-under 276. Only three other players broke par. Such is the nature of an outdoor sport dependent on weather.

Cantlay couldn’t be stopped once he saw a 15-foot putt drop for par on the ninth hole. He ripped off six birdies over his next seven holes, all but two of them from 18 feet or longer.

“Hit it pretty average, chipped it pretty average and made everything,” he said.

That recipe works anywhere.

The heat and humidity could sap energy from anyone, and McIlroy has been feeling fatigued as much from his schedule.

He went from the British Open to Tokyo for the Olympics – the heat index topped 100 degrees just about every day – and then to that cooler climate of Memphis, Tennessee in early August. After a week off, he faced as many as three straight FedEx Cup playoff events.

“I was super tired yesterday. But you get a good night’s sleep and you feel a little bit better the next day and you can go out and play well,” McIlroy said.

European Masters

James Morrison shot a course-record 10-under 60 to lead by three strokes after the first round of the European Masters on Thursday in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

Starting in the first group at 7:40 a.m. at the scenic Crans-sur-Sierre club, the 36-year-old Englishman set a target no one could match on a sun-bathed day high in the Swiss Alps.

“The greens were just absolutely perfect this morning with no wind,” said Morrison, a two-time winner on the European Tour.

Morrison made nine birdies and an eagle, dropping just one shot at the par-4 18th hole which he played in his outward nine.

Robin Sciot-Siegrist, the French left-hander, and Marcus Armitage each shot a 63 to tie for second place. Andy Sullivan and Dean Burmester were another shot back.

“It’s a four-round event. My 10 under isn’t going to win today, you’ll need to be minus-20 or (better),” Morrison said.

Miguel Ángel Jiménez is making his 31st appearance in the tournament at the Crans-Montana ski resort, which was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 57-year-old Jiménez, who won the 2010 edition, had four birdies in his 69.

Curtis Cup

Annabell Fuller and Caley McGinty were part of two winning matches Thursday as Great Britain & Ireland jumped out to a 4 1/2-11/2 lead over the Americans after the first round of the Curtis Cup in Conwy, Wales.

Hannah Darling teamed with Fuller in fourballs to beat Rachel Heck and Emilia Migliaccio, and Darling also partnered with Louise Duncan in halving the opening foursomes match against Heck and Rose Zhang, the top two women amateurs in the world.

Zhang, the No. 1 amateur in women’s golf, had to hole a 4-foot putt to win the 18th hole for a half-point. Zhang teamed with Allisen Corpuz for the only U.S. victory in fourballs.

GB&I already has more points than the last Curtis Cup, which the Americans won, 17-3, in 2018 at Quaker Ridge in New York.

“I’m just thrilled, thrilled with the result,” GB&I captain Elaine Ratcliffe said. “Thrilled that they have played the golf that I know they can play. I loved the fact that they have had such a great time doing it.”

Three more matches of foursomes and fourballs were scheduled for Friday, with eight singles matches Saturday.