Rory McIlroy goes back to old putter, grabs two-shot lead in Mexico


MEXICO CITY – The Rory McIlroy Express hasn’t lost any steam in the thin air.

The world No. 1, who has two wins, two ties for third and a tie for fifth in his past five starts on the PGA Tour, kept on rolling Thursday with a 6-under 65 to grab a two-shot lead in the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.

With a victory this week at Club de Golf Chapultepec, which rests 7,800 feet above sea level, McIlroy can join Dustin Johnson as the only players to win all four WGC events. McIlroy closed with three birdies in his final four holes.

While McIlroy certainly has abundant firepower – he had four drives exceeding 350 yards, hit a 4-iron 275 and a 6-iron 230 – it was the smallest club in his bag that was pivotal in getting two clear of Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson.

Using his old putter, a TaylorMade Spider X Copper, McIlroy needed just 26 putts, including a 17-footer for eagle on the 11th (his second hole of the day), a 15-footer for birdie on the eighth and a 10-footer for birdie on the ninth to close his round.

“I was sort of trying out a new putter last week and it didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to, so I went back to the 34-inch (length),” said McIlroy, who finished second to Dustin Johnson here last year. “I was using a 35 last week. I just felt a little bit more comfortable today and was seeing my lines a little bit better, and yeah, it was a good day.”

Turns out one inch can make all the difference.

“Sometimes with the 34, my right arm can get a little high and my right shoulder can sort of roll over, but with a 35 a little longer, it sort of puts my shoulder and my right elbow into better position, sort of more on plane with the shaft,” he said. “So it looked really good on video and it felt good. But once I got out (to last week’s Genesis Invitational), just that inch difference in the putter, it moves your eye line and you sort of stop seeing your lines the way you usually do, and I especially struggled on right-to-left putts. Because when it’s a longer putter and the ball is above your feet, you feel like the putter is up in your sort of belt.”

He has his distance control dialed in in the thin air. And with the fairways being on the soft side, he has confidence he can tee the ball up high and launch it.

“With the driver I can tee it up and I can launch it and maybe get a bit more out of it than some of the other guys,” he said. “I had a good session on Tuesday on the TrackMan, and we did all our numbers and got it dialed in and felt like distance control was good today.”

McIlroy’s distance has always been a weapon. And now he has confidence with the putter in hand. That’s a lethal combination.

“If I keep putting like that, I’ll be very happy,” he said. “If I can keep my strokes gained numbers in the positive and putt better than the field average on greens like this, then you’re doing something right. But it was definitely validation to going back to the putter I’d been using for the last 14 months, I guess. A little blip last week, but I’m back.”

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