Irish struggle as debutant Ramey leads Morikawa by one

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Rory McIlroy, Seamus Power and Shane Lowry all have work to do to make the cut at the PLAYERS Championship as Collin Morikawa trails Chad Ramey by one after a day of low scoring at TPC Sawgrass.

The afternoon hitters might have got the best of the conditions but it was the morning movers who shot the best scores with Ramey carding an eight-under 64 to lead Morikawa who went on a blistering run on the back nine to open with a 65.

Ramey is one of several debutants this week and he carded a bogey-free round to upstage the big names on the opening day.

“Not easy at all. I might have made it look that way but it wasn’t easy at all. It was fun, first time to shoot a score on such an iconic course like this. You can’t ask for any more.

“It gives me the confidence, and deep down I believe I belong out here. I believe I can beat them. It’s just a matter of I guess proving to everybody else that I can.

“But it’s nice to see my name up there with them because I did win an opposite-field event, but a win is a win in my book, so I’m not going to complain.”

McIlroy was in the marquee group alongside world number one Jon Rahm and world number three Scottie Scheffler and it was a group that failed to sparkle until Scheffler birdied three of his last four holes for a 68 with Rahm two worse after a frustrating 70.

While his playing partners battled hard to stay in the tournament, McIlroy has a mountain to climb to make the cut after bookending an opening 76 with sixes.

The Holywood set the tone for the day with a double bogey at the tenth hole and he bogeyed the par-5 9th to finish off a thoroughly frustrating day where he hit just 6 of 14 fairways.

The four-time major champion ranked 79th in strokes gained tee to green, 103rd around the greens and 113th in putting in what was a rough day at the office.

The 2019 champion was disappointed not to claim some of his dropped shots back on the par fives but felt the rough was playing as penal as he has ever seen it.

“You’ve got the four par-5s which are very gettable, and then you’ve got a few other holes, 4 and 12 specifically, so you’ve got six really gettable ones that you shouldn’t — if you’re on your game, you should be making birdie on those, so there still plenty of birdie opportunities out there.

“I feel like this is as penal as I’ve seen it out of the rough for a long time. I think you’d have to go back to when the tournament was played in May, when we were in Bermuda rough, for it to be as penal as that. Yeah, you don’t hit it on the fairway here, you’re going to struggle.”

Briefly, it looked as if McIlroy was going to rally after an opening double having birdied the par-5 11th. A bogey on 15 was followed by a sloppy three-putt par on the par-5 16th and from there he never got going again.

“Yeah, I made a good birdie on 11 and was solid enough. Missed a couple of chances. Yeah, the three-putt on 16 was probably the one that sort of stopped any momentum. I hit a really good shot out of the pine straw there and didn’t capitalize on that, and making bogey on 1 and bogey on 3 sort of was tough to get it back from there.”

Waterford’s Power is the best of the Irish in a share of 94th place on two-over while Lowry’s slow start to the season looks set to continue after a five-over 77.

The Clara native’s day was compounded on the 15th when he encountered some tree trouble, snapped an iron over his knee and carded a double bogey six.

The iconic 17th hole didn’t play as fearsome as in previous years and coughed up its 11th hole in one to Hayden Buckley who spun back a pitching wedge into the hole in Lowry fashion from 12 months ago.

Unfortunately for Buckley he went on a disastrous run when he made the turn for home, coming home in 41 for a 73 having been five-under after 10 holes.

“Yeah, it was like 124, I think. It really felt like there could have been a little bit of hurt. It’s really hard to feel the wind around that somewhat of a stadium. I knew if I could hit somewhere around a 130-yard shot, which I work on a lot — you don’t want to overdo it. I think one guy I played with before kind of overdid it and came up short, and I just thought, if we can hit one pretty straight, hope for it to land somewhere around the hill, and it just looked perfect the whole way.

“I had a little feeling something like that might happen this week. I don’t know, I’ve been hitting it well, but it’s always nice to see it happen on that hole, too.”

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