Rory McIlroy felt anything under par was a good score Thursday at Cherry Hills, even if he had reason to expect much better.
McIlroy ran out of par saves late in the opening round at the BMW Championship in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, and had to settle for a 3-under 67, still enough for the world's No. 1 player to share the lead with Jordan Spieth and Gary Woodland.
Cherry Hills, one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour when factoring in the mile-high air, held up fine.
"It's tricky. It really is," McIlroy said. "The altitude, we've had a couple of days to adjust to that. It's fine. But these greens have gotten so much firmer over the last 24 hours. I think that's what is giving the guys just a little trouble out there."
"Probably the firmest golf course we have ever seen," Woodland said. "The greens, they're concrete out there. So if we don't get any rain, it can be pretty interesting by the weekend."
U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia were among those at 68, while Justin Rose wasted a fast start and was at 69. Phil Mickelson, who won the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills in 1990, opened with a 70.
"It reminds me of Augusta in the early '90s, where the course played very short but the greens were the defense," Mickelson said.
McIlroy ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn to reach 5-under par.
He appeared to escape trouble with one of his best par saves of the year, hitting a lofted pitch from the side of a mound that landed just on the green and rode the slope to about 8 feet. He avoided a three-putt on the next hole by making a 7-foot par save. But McIlroy failed to save par from the bunker on the next two holes.