RORY McIlroy three-putted two of his last three holes for a disappointing 70 in the first round of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush.
Given “phenomenal” support by an all-ticket crowd there to watch the first staging of the event in the province since 1953, the world number two was four under standing on the 16th tee.
But both there and on the final green he was deceived by the speed – or lack of it– and his first task on his return is now to make sure he does not suffer a fifth missed cut in six starts.
McIlroy, the course-record holder with a 61 set as a 16-year-old, described his finish as ‘sloppy’ and added: “Hopefully I can pick up those shots early tomorrow and get back to where I was on the 15th hole today. I think as the day went on the greens got a bit slower and coming from the greens I’ve been putting on (in America) it’s a big change.
“I was happy with my game, but not happy with the result at the end of the day. I know the work that I am doing on my game is starting to pay off and I just need to stay patient and hopefully the good scores will flow from that.”
In contrast, Open champion Darren Clarke was relatively happy after he battled back from two over after eight to hand in a one under 71.
“I was hoping for better, but I can’t complain after going out in two over,” said Clarke.
“I got off to a pretty good start and then made a few stupid mistakes and paid the penalty for that. But I then rallied after the delay and made a few birdies and at least got it back under par.”
Not one of Northern Ireland’s ‘Big Three’ broke 70 as Graeme McDowell also had a 71. It included a double bogey seven on the long 17th, when he lost a ball in the bushes behind the green.
“The course was there for the taking to be honest with you,” said McDowell.
“The tour set the course up for tough weather conditions today but they never really came and I should have done better but there’s nothing to panic about. I just need to do better tomorrow.”