World number one and tournament host Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare start to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down on Thursday.
McIlroy came into the event having missed the cut in the BMW PGA Championship, the four-time major winner slumping to a second round of 78 in the defence of his title.
Rory McIlroy plays onto the 11th green during day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle. Picture: Press Association
And despite insisting he felt refreshed after an unexpected weekend off, the 26-year-old carried on where he left off at Wentworth by covering his first nine holes in 41.
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy – who has pledged to donate his prize money this week to his charitable foundation – missed from 15 feet for birdie on the 10th and then bogeyed the 11th after his approach from the rough bounded through the green.
A birdie looked on the cards when McIlroy came up just short of the par-five 12th in two, but he three-putted from long range and things went from bad to worse with four bogeys in succession from the 15th, including further three putts on the 16th and 18th.
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That left McIlroy five over par and joint 74th of the 78 morning starters, with a third missed cut in succession in the Irish Open already a distinct possibility.
Playing partner Rickie Fowler had got off to a far better start with birdies on the 10th and 11th, but also three-putted the 12th for par from 20 feet and dropped shots on the 14th and 16th to reach the turn in level par.
Fowler has not competed since winning the Players Championship earlier this month in spectacular style, playing the last six holes at Sawgrass in six under par – taking a tournament-record 11 shots to finish birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie - before beating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a play-off.
The world number nine was part of the victorious United States team which won the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in 2007, but it was a member of the Great Britain and Ireland side, England’s Danny Willett, who was setting the early pace.
Willett had covered the back nine in 34 with three birdies and one bogey before picking up another shot on the first, while Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen was also three under after eight holes.