Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy continued his strong form with an 8-under-par 63 at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Thursday to build a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson after the first round in Mexico City.
Johnson is in second place, with Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar tied for third at 5 under. Charles Howell III, South Africa’s George Coetzee and England’s Tyrrell Hatton are another shot off the pace at 4 under.
Playing in Mexico for the first time as a professional, Tiger Woods recovered from a double bogey after hitting his drive out of bounds on his first hole to birdie three consecutive holes from Nos. 4-6. Woods, who announced earlier in the day he will skip next week’s Honda Classic, finished the day tied for 25th at even par.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson fared far worse, struggling to an 8-over 79. He is tied for 70th in the 72-player, no-cut event.
Starting on the back nine of the Club de Golf Chapultepec, McIlroy birdied four of his first eight holes. He made the turn and promptly eagled No. 1 after nearly holing out from 307 yards. He carded three birdies against a lone bogey on his way in to the clubhouse.
McIlroy, who has tied for fourth twice and fifth once over his past three tournaments, hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation in tying his lowest round of the season.
He is also trying to enjoy playing at more than 7,000 feet above sea level this week. He said he’s hitting his 3-iron around 300 yards and can carry his driver upwards of 370 if he gets it up in the right air.
“Literally it’s a 100-yard difference between some shots,” McIlroy told the Golf Channel of the comparison to playing the Genesis Open in Los Angeles last week. “It’s fun. I’m glad we don’t have to do it every week, but while we’re here, we might as well make the most of it.”
As hot as McIlroy was, he couldn’t put much distance between himself and Johnson, who posted his eighth consecutive round in the 60s at the Club de Golf Chapultepec. The lowest elevation is 7,603 feet above sea level, with the highest point being at 7,835 feet.
“It’s tough,” Johnson admitted to the Golf Channel when asked about the elevation. “It’s an adjustment, but we figure out our numbers on the range and we go with them the best that we can.”
Johnson, who is known for his even-keeled temperament on the course, also said he didn’t concern himself with trying to keep pace with McIlroy on a Thursday.
“There’s way too much going on to worry about what anyone else is doing,” said Johnson, who turned in the only bogey-free card Thursday. “I’m very pleased with the round.”