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Back a non-issue, Rory McIlroy ‘in the tournament’ with three-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.

The Northern Irishman birdied his final two holes at The K Club in Straffan – a village in County Kildare, Ireland – to overcome rust and two bogeys in a round he also 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,” he 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 practise much.

“And I just hit a few loose shots out there. Managed my game well and scraped it around in three under, which is nice and sort of gets me in the tournament.”

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

The four-time Major Champion said this week his back was “90, 95 per cent” and does not limit him.

Asked on Thursday if his back had any impact on his round, he 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.

“Just a little unsure over a couple shots, but again overall I managed myself well today and got it around.”

With enough work, he added that he would be more comfortable in the second round.

“I think more than anything it’s 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 practised that much, or hit a lot of balls.”

Shubhankar Sharma’s seven-under 65 took the Indian to the top of the leaderboard.

The 27-year-old finished birdie-birdie-eagle to take a one-shot lead from a five-strong pack that includes Ryder Cup vice-captain Thomas Bjorn.

Defending champion Adrian Meronk, who had expressed his shock and anger in being overlooked for a Ryder Cup wild card, also carded a 69 as he played alongside McIlroy. REUTERS, AFP

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