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Rory McIlroy shares the lead on a Cherry Hills course tougher than it looked

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CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - Cherry Hills had not hosted a PGA Tour-sanctioned event in nearly 30 years. When factoring in the mile-high air, it is relatively short by tour standards. Players talked about scores in the low 60s. It looked like it might be a fun place to play.

Nobody shot better than 67 in the first round of the BMW Championship.

Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 player, did manage to reach 5 under when he reeled off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn. But he started scrambling for pars, and couldn't hang on. He wound up with a 3-under 67 and a share of the lead with Jordan Spieth and Gary Woodland.

"The scoring isn't that good out there," McIlroy said. "Not that it's not good, it's just not that low. It's tricky. It's playing a little bit like a U.S. Open. I wouldn't say it's quite as difficult as that, but it's thick rough, especially around the greens, and firm greens. That's what they need to keep the scoring the way it is."

In this 69-man field of elite players, no more than 21 players broke par.

McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, who had a 68, said there was a slight resemblance to a U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson, who won the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, opened with a 70 and said it reminded him of Augusta National from the 1990s.

"The greens are the defence," he said.

Nine players failed to finish the first round because of late storms. That included Henrik Stenson, who was at 2 under with one hole to play.

Here are some things that had everyone talking after one round of the third FedEx Cup playoff event.

BOY WONDER: McIlroy now has gone two whole tournaments since his last victory, which only stands out because of what he was winning. He won the British Open and PGA Championship, and threw in a World Golf Championship in between.

McIlroy has slipped to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings, though he is assured a clear shot at the $10 million bonus for whoever wins the FedEx Cup.

The altitude wasn't a problem at Cherry Hills. It was tough to get at some of the pins, and McIlroy did well during his stretch of birdies. But after two strong par saves, he couldn't get up-and-down from bunkers on Nos. 7 and 8.

He was frustrated. But he was atop the leaderboard. And that's never a bad thing.

SPIETH: Spieth isn't in a slump, either, though he has gone through a lull. He has had only one top 10 since The Players Championship in May, and that was at the John Deere Classic. The 21-year-old Texan was atop the leaderboard for the first time after any round since Saturday at The Players.

He is building toward his Ryder Cup debut next month, and Thursday was a good start. He made two late birdies for a 67. Spieth said his short game was very good, and that was worth nothing because his short game is among the best in golf.

ARNIE'S DRIVE: The first hole at Cherry Hills is where Arnold Palmer hitched up his pants and drove the green in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open, the start of his charge from a seven-shot deficit to win his only U.S. Open.

The hole played 318 yards in 1960 with wound balls and wooden clubs.

It played 353 yards on Thursday, and all but 10 players took a crack at the green. Only two of them landed on the putting surface, and one player made an eagle.

Fittingly, it was Palmer.

Ryan Palmer.

TAKING THE FIFTH: The fifth hole at Cherry Hills is a 524-yard par 4, and not surprisingly, it played the toughest in the first round. McIlroy's second shot landed on the side of a mound, and he made what he considers the best up-and-down of the year. He played well right of the pin, hit a lofted pitch that landed just onto the green and then rode the slope to about 8 feet.

The average score was 4.594. There were only two birdies. Camilo Villegas made a putt from 30 feet. Garcia made his birdie putt from 15 feet.

RYDER CUP: Now that the Ryder Cup teams are set with the U.S. and Europe adding its three captain's picks, it was hard not to look at how the teams fared.

Europe has six of its 12 players at the BMW Championship. They were a combined 7-under par. All 12 Americans are at Cherry Hills. Only one player — Spieth — broke par. The team was a combined 18-over par.

The three captain's picks for the Americans were 9 over, led by Hunter Mahan at 75. He headed straight for the range.

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