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Back a non-issue, Rory McIlroy 'in the tournament' with 3-under at Irish Open

DUBLIN - Rory McIlroy rode five birdies to a pain-free opening round of 69 at the Irish Open on Thursday, declaring himself “in the tournament” and over a recent back injury.

McIlroy birdied his final two holes at The K Club in Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland, to overcome rust and two bogeys in a round he summarised as “a bit of a struggle.”

“I think the two birdies in the last two holes sort of glossed over what was a pretty average day. Didn’t really feel great with anything. In fairness, I actually felt pretty good over the putter which is nice,” McIlroy said.

“It’s hard to say I’m rusty when I’ve only had a week off but I just haven’t had a chance to practice much. And I just hit a few loose shots out there. Managed my game well and scraped it around in 3-under which is nice and sort of gets me in the tournament.”

McIlroy, 34, has been dealing with an ailing back since a workout prior to the Tour Championship. He won the last Irish Open at The K Club seven years ago.

The Northern Irishman said this week his back was “90, 95 per cent” and doesn’t limit him.

Asked on Thursday if his back had any impact on his round, McIlroy offered a decisive answer.

“Not at all,” he said. “It’s more that I have not been able to hit a ton of balls. I’m hitting good shots but as you know it’s all about knowing your patterns and where you’re missing it and where to aim and where not to aim and just a little unsure over a couple shots but again overall I managed myself well today and got it around.”

McIlroy said he plans to follow his typical practice routine on Thursday afternoon, returning to the range and putting green in search of his rhythm. With enough work, McIlroy said he would be more comfortable in the second round on Friday.

“I think more than anything trusting yourself, trusting your swing, trusting your ability to swing the way you want to swing, all that sort of stuff,” he said of the impact of limited practice time.

“I haven’t practiced that much, or hit a lot of balls.

“You get a little more comfortable knowing if you’re missing it right or you’re missing it left, where to aim, where not to aim. I just haven’t played a ton over the last 10 days and sort of out of the rhythm of that. Hopefully as the week progresses I can get a little more comfortable.” FIELD LEVEL MEDIA