Rory McIlroy struggled to justify his position as pre-tournament favourite in the early stages of the Irish Open at Fota Island on Thursday.
McIlroy has a relatively poor record in his national championship, recording two top-10 finishes in seven appearances and missing the cut last year along with Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
The 25-year-old had the added incentives of being able to move top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and getting back inside the top five on the world rankings with a good performance this week, but made an untidy start in front of large crowds in Cork.
Starting from the 10th, McIlroy hit his third shot to the 537-yard par-five over the green and had to scramble for his par, something he was unable to do on the short 11th after finding sand off the tee.
McIlroy split the fairway on the next but had to save par again after coming up short of the green with his approach, while another missed green on the 14th resulted in a second bogey of the day after a duffed chip.
A birdie on the par-five 18th – where he had completed an approximate 62 in Wednesday’s pro-am – took McIlroy to the turn in one over, but another bogey soon followed on the second when a misjudged approach flew well over the green.
McIlroy was lucky not to pull his tee shot into the water on the third, but failed to make the most of his good fortune and another bogey dropped him to three over par, six shots off the lead held by South African Justin Walters.
Playing partner Harrington was faring considerably better than McIlroy, the three-time major winner holing from 15 feet for birdie on the 10th and from a similar distance on the 14th.
That took the Dubliner, currently a lowly 233rd in the world, to two under par but a bogey on the 18th meant he reached the turn in one under in pursuit of a first full-field tournament victory on a major tour since the 2008 US PGA Championship.