For the third consecutive time since September's Ryder Cup, Rory McIlroy is threatening to win a golf tournament. McIlroy won the CJ Cup in October and nearly pulled off the DP World Tour Championship Dubai in November. Now he shares the Hero World Challenge lead at 6 under alongside Abraham Ancer and Daniel Berger.
McIlroy said after his round that his game feels sharp and has maintained that he found something after that Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
"The three starts since the Ryder Cup have been really good, I've shot some good, low scores," he said. "Yeah, the game's feeling a lot better and it's just another ... chance to get into contention and feel that, you know, whatever it is you feel on Sunday when you're trying to win a golf tournament."
After going out in just 35 with three birdies and a double, McIlroy was flawless on the back and made an eagle 2 on the par-4 14th. He's obviously always a threat to win any tournament he enters, but his game is especially under control right now, and he's the new favorite here at +333, according to Caesar's Sportsbook.
The only bummer for him? It's the beginning of December and not the end of March.
"I wish it was a different time of the year the way I'm playing, but there's no reason why I can't pick up again in January and keep playing the way I'm playing," McIlroy said. "I'm still going to keep myself ticking over these next few weeks, I'm not going to completely shut the clubs away for a few weeks. Maybe two or three times a week I'll get out there and play and practice, just maybe not take a complete break like I've done before because my game's in good shape and I want to keep it there."
Here's a look at the rest of the leaderboard after Round 1 of the Hero World Challenge.
T1. Rory McIlroy, Daniel Berger, Abraham Ancer (-6): Berger has been awesome all year and mostly flown under the radar. He has 10 top 10s in 19 starts in 2021, and though he came in 18-1 to win this tournament, that number is all the way down to 8-1 with 54 holes to go. It could have been even better for him, too. He was 7 under through 11 holes and played the last seven in 1 over. He's certainly not somebody I would want to deal with on the weekend. The short game is great, he has tons of staying power and he's a monster when it comes to being competitive against the rest of the best players in the world.
T4. Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka (-5): J.T. had to be disappointed by his closing kick. He hit it wildly on the home hole, made double and dropped out of a solo lead into a tie for fourth. His story on Thursday was the story of most of his year. The tee-to-green game is there, but he can't find the cup as often as he would like. If he does, it will likely be off to the races this weekend.
"It obviously was a poor finish, but I mean, I played well," Thomas said. "Got off to a good start and just kind of hit a lull there in the middle, but hit a lot of really, really good putts that didn't go in or felt like it could have been a really, really low round. It was windy enough out there to where 5 under's a good score."
T7. Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa (-4): Imagine tuning in Thursday, not knowing this was a 20-golfer field and seeing this leaderboard. Regardless, it's so fun that the top 10 of this field going into Friday has a combined 13 major championships. Reed is intriguing here as he absolutely crushes on this golf course. Hovland, who was my top-10 lock this week, played his last five holes in 4 under to turn an even-par round into contention over the last hour of play. He was (and will be) a menace from tee to green.