McIlroy struggles; fast start for Fowler at Irish Open

Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy both carried on from where they left off as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open got under way on Thursday.

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.

McIlroy struggles; fast start for Fowler at Irish Open

And the world number nine was immediately in red figures on his return to Royal County Down, where he was part of the victorious United States Walker Cup team in 2007.

Fowler holed from five feet for birdie on the par-three 10th – his opening hole - and from 20 feet on the 11th, but surprisingly three-putted the 12th for par after finding the green in two on the par five.

In contrast, playing partner and tournament host McIlroy came into the event having missed the cut in the BMW PGA Championship, the world number one slumping to a second round of 78 in the defence of his title at Wentworth.

And McIlroy, who has pledged to donate his prize money this week to his charitable foundation, also got off to a poor start in his native Northern Ireland, failing to get up and down from the back of the 11th and also three-putting the 12th for par.

Fowler shared the early lead with another player from the 2007 Walker Cup, England’s Danny Willett having birdied the 11th and 12th, with Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell among a large group on one under.

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