McIlroy, Ancer, Berger Share Hero World Challenge Lead at 66 After First Round

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland supposedly has had a bad year, even though he’s won twice on the PGA Tour, and he’s back on top of another leaderboard.

The 32-year-old McIlroy (pictured) played a brilliant back nine on his way to a 6-under-par 66 and is tied for the lead with Abraham Ancer of Mexico and Daniel Berger after one round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, The Bahamas.

The tournament, hosted by Tiger Woods, was not played last year because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“I made a double-bogey on the ninth hole, but I played the back nine in 5-under,” said the eighth-ranked McIlroy, who has won 29 times in his pro career, including four majors. “I didn’t birdie any of the five par-5s, so I have to play them better the next three days to have a chance to win.

“But I played the other holes well and it’s nice to be tied for the lead, even though I felt I left some out there. I have to keep it going and play the par-5s better to stay up there and be in the hunt on Sunday.

“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. … My game’s in good shape and I want to keep it there.”

McIlroy, who won the Wells Fargo Championship for the third time and also captured the CJ Cup this year, birdied three of the first five holes and after his stumble at No. 9 added three birdies and a chip-in eagle at No. 14 coming home.

Ancer rattled off five birdies on the back nine in matching McIlroy’s 66, while Berger had sole possession of the lead for much of the day thanks to birdies on the first four holes and an eagle at No. 11 before making a bogey on the last hole.

“It’s probably the longest break I’ve had in my professional career,” said Berger, who had not played a competitive round since he closed with a 64 to tie for 11th Tour Championship in September.

“It was a little scary taking over a month off because I haven’t done that in a while, wondering if you’re going to come back and still have it. But mentally and physically, I needed the break.”

Said Ancer, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in August: “I’m happy with pretty much all of my bag. I feel like I hit it great off the tee … Iron play was pretty solid as well, but probably the highlight was definitely my putter. I rolled it nicely today.”  

Sixth-ranked Justin Thomas collected eight birdies and held a one-stroke lead before hitting his tee shot on the last hole into the brush en route to a double-bogey 6 to cap a 67 and is tied for fourth with Webb Simpson, who had five birdies on the back nine, and Brooks Koepka, who made six birdies in eight holes through No. 11.

Second-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal made four birdies on the back nine in a 68 and is tied for seventh with ninth-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway, who holed out for an eagle at No. 14, Tony Finau, who eagled No. 11, and Patrick Reed, who holed out for eagle at No. 14.

Seventh-ranked Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis is tied for 11th at 69, fourth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State shot 70 and is solo 13th, 2014 Hero World Challenge champion Jordan Spieth is tied for 14th at 71 and 2019 winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden is 19th in the 20-man field at 72.

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