It’s more needles than pins for off-radar Rory McIlroy who hits his WORST opening round at the Masters… leaving him with it all to do to make sure he stays around for the weekend
- Much like November, Rory McIlroy got off to the worst possible start in Augusta
- Last year, he suffered his worst opening round at the Masters with a score of 75
- Things got worse as he topped that score on Thursday with a round of 76
- It leaves McIlroy with a big challenge ahead to stay around for the weekend
Watching Rory McIlroy can be a dangerous game these days. Just ask his dad, Gerry. Quite literally, he found himself in the firing line as the Northern Irishman’s Masters misadventures continued with his worst opening round at Augusta.
It was bad enough when he opened up with a 75 last November but this was even more depressing, as he signed for a 76 that leaves him with yet another second round battle simply to be around for the weekend.
What happened at the seventh hole will be recalled in the McIlroy family household for quite some time to come. A wayward drive from McIlroy junior had left him needing to manufacture a shot around the Georgia pines, only for him to come up with another miscue.
Just like November, Rory McIlroy has left himself with a big challenge after a horrid first round
‘Fore right!’ he screamed. Hitting any spectator with an errant blow is every player’s nightmare but what if the poor soul is your dad, for goodness sake?
At least Gerry could see the funny side, after the ball struck him on the upper thigh. After confirming there was no damage done he told Sportsmail, walking up the ninth: ‘The volunteer marshal on the seventh said I might want to hang around, that he was sure Rory would give me a signed glove.’
Funnily enough, Gerry passed on that option but the viewing never got any easier, during another error-strewn opening day for his out of sorts son at Augusta. Since starting out with a 65 a decade ago, McIlroy has only broken 70 once in the first round, and it quickly became apparent there was no chance of it happening on this occasion.
McIlroy was hardly the only big name or big hitter to falter, mind, as the fast and firm conditions favoured the crafty rather than the kapow corps. In November the relatively short hitters did not stand a chance in the soft conditions but, with the further aid of a devilish, soft breeze, here was their redemption.
The first man to reach the sanctuary of the clubhouse having broken 70 was the wily left hander Brian Harman, a Georgia native who only got into the event courtesy of breaking into the world’s top 50 after finishing tied third at the Players Championship last month.
He was soon joined by Hideki Matsuyama, the gifted Japanese who has been long saddled with the burden of trying to become the first male golfer from his nation to win a major.
It was an error-strewn day, and he even hit his dad Gerry with a wayward shot on the seventh
One stroke behind this pair were two more players who rely on guile rather than power: former US Open champion Webb Simpson, and the promising, consistent newcomer Will Zalatoris, who has finished in the top 30 in 10 of his 14 starts this season.
Another to post 70 was Christiaan Bezuidenhout, the talented 26-year-old from Johannesburg who many shrewd judges believe will become the next great South African golfer.
Given the difficult conditions and the imaginative questions posed, it was not a surprise to see the 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed thrive once more. He has become a more complete player since hooking up with Sir Nick Faldo’s old coach David Leadbetter and learning to harness his driver with more accuracy.
Around the greens he remains an absolute magician, and he showed off those skills with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes to join the group on 70.
As for the English corps, Paul Casey was kicking himself for not posting at least some score under par, after playing the front nine in 33 shots, the highlight of which was an eagle at the par-five eighth.
McIlroy’s wayward shot on the seventh struck his dad on the back of the leg on Thursday
Now 43, this is his favourite major but the love was not returned on the back nine as he dropped all those shots and one more to finish with a disappointing 73. Talk about a game of two halves. Ian Poulter went the other way, picking up two late shots to salvage a 74 from the wreckage cause by six bogeys in seven holes from the sixth.
And then there was McIlroy, whose problems now appear so ingrained it is becoming hard to watch. His driving, so long the bedrock of his game when playing well, was off-radar, leading to him playing two recovery shots off pine needles in the first three holes. Although he escaped with pars on both occasions, it was hardly the most auspicious of starts.
Ironically, it was following his first straight drive that he ran up his first bogey, at the difficult par-four fifth, where his approach shot came up short. He then followed it with a pulled eight iron tee shot for another bogey at the par-three sixth. Then came his third bogey in a row at the fateful seventh.
McIlroy faces a big challenge ahead on the second day just to stay for the weekend
Just when it looked as if he might be finding a semblance of rhythm, following a birdie at the eighth with two good shots on the ninth, he three-putted from no distance for a dismal opening half of 39 shots.
Even during good times at the Masters, McIlroy has often struggled at the 11th hole. His stroke average of 4.33 is his highest for any par four at Augusta. Here, following another pushed drive, his recovery shot found the slope on the fairway that leads inexorably into the water beside the green. After a penalty drop, the 31-year-old had to hole a slippery 20ft putt to drop only one shot.
So to the 13th, the hole where he knew the game was up a decade ago when he collapsed in the final round and shot 80. Slumped over his driver on that occasion, he came up with a mirror image this time as his approach found Rae’s Creek. It led to his sixth bogey in the space of just eight holes.
With a new coach in Pete Cowen and new swing rhythms to try to bed down, this poor showing hardly came as a surprise. The old cliche that Augusta is the place where you show off your game not find it, still holds true.
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