Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry fire 11-under 61 to share lead with foes at Zurich Classic

After years of hearing "maybe next year" when it came to the Zurich Classic, Rory McIlroy finally made his debut at the PGA Tour's annual team event Thursday at TPC Louisiana. The two-time FedExCup champion and four-time major winner wasn't bothered in the least, as he and Ryder Cup teammate Shane Lowry ripped off an 11-under 61 in the four-ball format to sit atop the leaderboard with several other groups after the first round.

It was a dream start for the duo, who combined for four birdies on their first four holes and turned in 6-under 30 thanks to a couple more gains. A birdie on the 10th was followed by a disappointing par on the 11th, but McIlroy would pump his eighth iron of the day to tap-in distance at the 12th to get the team to 9 under. Lowry would then chip in for birdie at the 14th to push the pair to double digits under par.

The leaderboard got a bit crowded at the top with several teams joining McIlroy and Lowry at 11 under. The group includes Ryan Brehm and Mark Hubbard, Aaron Rai and David Lipsky, and Ben Kohles and Patton Kizzire. Brehm and Hubbard are the standouts of the group, with the former notching a couple of top 20s and a top five this season while the latter has yet to miss a cut. However, the rest of the players in the group have been riding some inconsistency. Rai has been steady but Lipsky has missed eight cuts in 11 starts this season. As for Kizzire, he has six missed cuts and a withdrawal in nine starts this year, and Kohles has six missed cuts and a withdrawal in 11 starts this season.

"You know that you sort of need to get off to a good start, and thankfully we did," McIlroy said. "We were 4 under through 4, which was really nice to see, and from there you've got some momentum and you're just trying to keep it going ... as long as you have two balls in play off the tee, two balls on the green, I think you're always going to do pretty well in this format."

The format changes Friday, as the teams transition to foursomes, also known as alternate shot. Unlike four-ball, which allows each player to hit their own shots, alternate shot means the players hit shots interchangeably. With the pressure on to perform, the leaderboard could look a whole lot different when play concludes Friday.

But if the pressure is too much for the contenders, there are plenty of teams close behind them with aspirations of catching them. Davis Thompson and Andrew Novak sit just two back at 9 under alongside Thomas Detry and Robert MacIntyre, Cameron Champ and MJ Daffue, and Sam Stevens and Paul Barjon. The latter duo of Higgo and Fox joined Luke List and Henrik Norlander, Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith, Zac Blair and Patrick Fishburn, Marc Meissner and Austin Smotherman, Callum Tarren and David Skinns, and Keith Mitchell and Joel Dahmen at 9 under.

Afterward, Hubbard said the key to their strong start was ham-and-egging it, with both him and his partner feeding off each other. They relaxed each other out on the course, and best ball was a fun format for them to partake in. The team made up for a poor showing on the greens last week, with Brehm noting that his partner had several holes where he snuggled it up there nice and close for par and it really freed him up. They'll need some of that magic again in foursomes after they made the turn in the lead Thursday.

"I think it's about leaving each other to it," MacIntyre said. "We're both good players, both know what we're doing with the golf ball. It's just trusting each other. If I hit a good shot, you hit a good shot. If you hit a bad shot, don't say sorry, you're not meaning to do it. You just keep walking forward and keep trying to hit good shots and committing to them and see where we end up."

Here's a look at the top 10 after the first round of the 2024 Zurich Classic

  1. Rory McIlroy/Shane Lowry, David Lipsky/Aaron Rai, Ryan Brehm/Mark Hubbard, Ben Kohles/Patton Kizzire (-11)
  2. Davis Thompson/Andrew Novak, Thomas Detry/Robert MacIntyre, Cameron Champ/MJ Daffue (-10)
  3. Sam Stevens/Paul Barjon, Garrick Higgo/Ryan Fox, Luke List/Henrik Norlander, Corey Conners/Taylor Pendrith, Zac Blair/Patrick Fishburn, Marc Meissner/Austin Smotherman, Callium Tarren/David Skinns, Keith Mitchell/Joel Dahmen (-9)
  4. Andrew Novak/Davis Thompson, Robert MacIntyre/Thomas Detry, MJ Daffue/Cameron Champ (-8)
  5. Patrick Fishburn/Zac Blair, Taylor Pendrith/Corey Conners, Henrik Norlander/Luke List, Austin Smotherman/Marc Meissner, David Skinns/Callum Tarren, Joel Dahmen/Keith Mitchell (-7)
  6. Sam Barjon/Garrick Higgo, Paul Ryan/Adam Scott (-6)
  7. Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (-5)
  8. Adam Hadwin/Nick Taylor, Scottie Scheffler/Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker/Mathew Wolff (-4)
  9. Tyrrell Hatton/Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood/Victor Perez (-3)
  10. Justin Thomas/Harris English, Adam Scott/Paul Ryan (-2)

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