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Defending champ McIlroy shoots opening 2-under 69

SYDNEY (AP) — Rory McIlroy’s defense of his Australian Open title began with a 2-under 69 on a cool, overcast and often drizzly morning at The Australian Golf Club.

McIlroy, winner of back-to-back majors this year at the British Open and U.S. PGA, began play on the back nine and made the turn at even-par after a birdie and a bogey. He birdied the first hole of his second nine, added another at the par-5 fifth, but made bogey on the seventh.

He finished strongly, hitting his approach on the ninth to less than two feet and making an easy birdie. McIlroy was a stroke behind Australian Aron Price, who was the best of the morning groupings with a 68.

It was a day that almost made him feel at home in McIlroy said.

“It was cold, windy and a little bit of rain here and there,” explained the Northern Irishman. “When I think of playing golf in Australia, it’s not the kind of day I expected.”

McIlroy said the wind was tricky and predicted it could get tougher for the afternoon starters.

“The wind was up early on, then it died, then got up again,” he said.

McIlroy missed a 10-foot putt for birdie on the 12th hole — his third of the day after starting on the back nine — and fought to save par on the 13th after putting his approach through the green.

He birdied the short par-5 14th after a bunker shot to three feet, but gave the shot back on the next hole after a poor shot out of the sand on the par-3 15th on the revamped Jack Nicklaus layout.

“Three birdies on the back nine, a nice one at the end,” he said. “I’ll take anything in the 60s. I thought was a good score and puts me right there for tomorrow.”

Adam Scott, who finished second in last year’s tournament at Royal Sydney when McIlroy birdied the 18th hole of the final round, was in an afternoon group that included American Jordan Spieth.

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