McIlroy struggles in opening nine at Carton House
RORY McIlroy's bid for a first win of the season got off to a slow start today as light rain greeted the early starters in the first round of the Irish Open.
McIlroy won five times last year, including his second major title in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, but has struggled to reproduce that form in 2013.
The 24-year-old finished 41st in the US Open at Merion a fortnight ago and yesterday apologised for throwing a club and bending his nine iron out of shape during a final round of 76.
The nine iron - one of the Nike clubs he controversially changed to in a multi-million pound deal in January - has since gained a new shaft, but McIlroy's putting was more the problem as he dropped two shots in his first three holes.
Starting from the 10th, the world number two missed short putts to bogey the 11th and 12th before hitting back with a birdie on the short par-four 13th.
At one over par he was three off the early lead shared by English duo Mark Foster and Paul Waring, Australian Andrew Dodt and American Tyler McCumber, son of former US Tour player Mark McCumber.
McIlroy admits he sounds like a broken record when he insists his game is not far from its best, and there were few signs of him proving that at a Carton House venue where he made his debut in the event as a 16-year-old amateur.
A poor drive and equally poor pitch led to a bogey on the par-five 18th and took him to the turn in two over, five behind playing partner and former champion Shane Lowry, who was sharing the lead with Dodt, France's Thomas Levet and England's Paul Casey.
Lowry, who won the title in 2009 while still an amateur, had bogeyed the 10th but hit back with a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th and picked up another shot on the 18th.
As the rain intensified, McIlroy missed from 15ft for a birdie on the par-five fourth, but Lowry got up and down from just short of the green to improve to four under.
England's Chris Paisley was also four under after covering the back nine in 32, with Casey, Dodt and Thomas Bjorn - winner here in 2006 - a shot behind.
Bjorn, who was playing with McIlroy and Lowry and was second to Ernie Els in the BMW International in Munich on Sunday, had gone to the turn in 34 and also birdied the fourth.