World number one and tournament host Rory McIlroy at least retained his sense of humour despite suffering a nightmare first round in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down on Thursday.
McIlroy carded nine bogeys and no birdies in an opening 80 which left him dead last of the 78 morning starters and in need of a brilliant second round on Friday to avoid a third straight missed cut in the event.
“It was not quite as difficult as I made it look,” admitted McIlroy after an opening round played in cold, blustery conditions and the occasional rain shower.
“It’s disappointing because I want to go out there and play well, not just for myself but for a lot of other people. I’ll just have to pick myself up and go out there tomorrow and shoot a good one.
“My goal will be to make some birdies, make my first birdie of the tournament at some point.”
McIlroy, who missed the cut in his defence of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week, was supported by large galleries from the sell-out 20,000 crowd and added: “I want to give them something to cheer about and not just get sympathy claps as I got coming off the ninth green.
“I felt like I put myself in good positions off the tee but I was caught between trying to play two ways. I was hitting it well on the range, keeping it down and hitting half shots, but the wind was not up that much on the course and that led to missing greens, which led to lots of eight to 12-foot putts for par, which led to missing all of them.”
McIlroy was not alone in struggling, with playing partner and US Open champion Martin Kaymer also failing to record a single birdie in a round of 79, although the final member of the marquee group, Rickie Fowler, carded a 71 to lie two shots off the lead shared by Danny Willett and Soren Kjeldsen.
Willett, McIlroy and Fowler all played in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, which the United States won by a single point, but Willett admitted: “It’s a lot different playing this course in a stroke play event. In match play you could just pick the ball up if you were having a bad hole!”