Rory McIlroy’s putting woes horrible resurfaced on home soil turning what should have been a 65 or 66 into a frustrating 70 on the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin.
McIlroy did manage four birdies but he also had at least half-a-dozen putts from inside 10-feet that failed to drop in warm but slightly windy conditions along the Co. Donegal shoreline.
What was frustrating, and not only again for McIlroy, but for a huge gathering lining the ‘natural’ grandstands of the Pat Ruddy designed Glasheedy Course, was seeing so many of the putts McIlroy missed not even hitting the hole.
And after his round McIlroy was again left ponder another testing day in the office that left him trailing three shots behind New Zealander Ryan Fox (67).
“It could have been a lot better. It’s the best I hit the ball in a long time. I put the ball in play, what I needed to do, and drove the ball very well. Iron play was good,” he said.
“It’s just that I struggled on the greens. It was either I hit good putts and just didn’t read them right, or sometimes it was maybe a reaction of putts I had hit previously on a couple holes earlier.
“I sort of just got into my head a little bit. I held some decent putts. I held a couple of good ones for par.
“I held a nice one on 12 for birdie but I’m going to need to putt a little bit better over the next three days to have a chance.
“So, I’ve got to take the positives. I hit the ball as good as I have done in a long time. You know, if I can keep that up over the next few days, hopefully I won’t be far away.”
McIlroy was given a big welcome on the first tee and responded by sending a superb 3-wood down the first to just a few yards short of 300-yards before landing his 132-yard wedge shot to just a few feet left of the flag.
But then as we have seen far too often of late he missed what should have been a birdie start.
McIlroy managed a first birdie at the fourth but gave it back with a bogey at the next
He was also warmly applauded with his tee-shot at the par-3 seventh with his ball, to an 11 o’clock located pin, landing some 10-feet behind the flag from where McIlroy walked off with a birdie to get back into the red at one-under.
There was a look of ‘about blinkin’ time’ on his face when McIlroy holed a 20-footer for the third birdie of his round at the par-4 12th hole and with the Ulsterman letting loose a mouthful of wind before gingerly raising his right arm in recognition of the applause.
If there was a superb shot of his round it was as the par-3 14th hole and it wasn’t an ace or a birdie. No, it was a shot that displayed the wealth of his links experience, that goes all the way but to Ulster and Irish Boys victory titles on like courses.
McIlroy was short left of the green and staring at playing a chip shot over a slope and run the ball down to the hole which he did to perfection and stopping the ball within tap-in distance to save par.
But he then dropped a shot at 15 and while he got back to two-under par with a birdie on 17, McIlroy again walked-off short-changed in missing a birdie at the last.
“The putt there on 18 I felt like I pulled it but some of the other ones I missed left, it was more I didn’t read them right but I did see the break, it was there,” he said.
“I’m going to go do a bit of work this evening and see if I can straighten it out”.
McIlroy was quizzed if he felt he did deserve better than a score of 70.
“I wouldn’t say I deserved better but it could have been better,” he said.
“I hit the ball very well. I gave myself a lot of chances, which is what you need to do around here. You need to put the ball in play off the tee and I was able to do that.
“I am able to do that a lot better than I have done the last few weeks which is positive. I just need to hole a few more putts and see a few drop, and hopefully that will give me bit of momentum to go into the next few days.”
It there was one aspect in the first round of his last Irish Open as tournament host and that was the golf course.
“The golf course and the crowds have been fantastic,” he said.
“The weather has cooperated and it’s playing like a true links test. The wind today was slightly different than the wind we’ve had the last couple days, so some different clubs off tees. It makes the holes play so much differently.
“It’s fun. It’s a proper test. You’ve got to put your ball in play, and I did that for the most part today. Looking forward to the next three days.
“Looking at the leader board I’m right in it. I’m only three behind. I’m not too far off the lead and if I can hit the ball similar to today over the next few days and just get a few more to drop, I should be right in.”
McIlroy tees it up early for round two with an 8:20am start from the 10th.