Monday 24 October 2016

Lowry 12 shots off pace on tough return to action

William S Callahan

Published 01/07/2016 | 02:30

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images

Shane Lowry endured a day to forget on his return to action following his US Open disappointment.

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The Offalyman returned to the scene of his first victory on the PGA Tour at the Bridgestone Invitational last night, however, he will have to play well today if he is to have any chance of defending it.

Seven bogeys and just a single birdie left him on six over par 76, 12 shots behind William McGirt, who holds a three shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jimmy Walker and world number one Jason Day.

US Open champion Dustin Johnson finished on one over par while Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were one shot better off on two under.

On the European Tour, Rory McIlroy revealed how much work he has to do before bidding to regain his Open title after an erratic opening round in the 100th French Open.

McIlroy was two under par after six holes at Le Golf National but eventually had to settle for a level-par 71 featuring four birdies, four bogeys and two trips to the water at the 2018 Ryder Cup venue.

That left the 27-year-old five shots off the lead held by Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, whose 66 gave him a one-shot advantage over defending champion Bernd Wiesberger, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui.

Padraig Harrington is seven shots off the pace after mixing three double-bogeys with four birdies in his 73.

McIlroy has been putting in the hours on the range with coach Michael Bannon ever since an opening 77 in the US Open led to a first missed cut in a Major championship since the 2013 Open.

And asked what areas he was working on, the four-time Major winner joked: “Have you got 10 minutes?

“My left-hand grip is too strong. Takeaway was going on the inside. Wasn’t holding my right elbow properly at the top of my swing. Wasn’t getting my right knee out of the way on the downswing. . . I’ve been working on a few things.

“I was joking with my friends at the weekend: I’ve got 17 swing thoughts down to about five, so I’m doing okay. Try to get that to two next week.

“I’ve got another hopefully three competitive rounds here. I’ve got all next week and then a few days leading up to the Thursday of the Open. So hopefully by then, it will be all bedded in.”

McIlroy, who was unable to defend his Open title last year after suffering an ankle injury during a game of football with friends, added: “I think the hardest thing is that I haven’t focused on my grip since I changed it when I was maybe 12 years old. Progressively the left hand got a bit stronger and stronger and that clubface is coming in closed at impact.

“Gripping the club feels quite strange at the minute but I just need to stay with it. Bigger picture, it’s the right thing to do. They are not major changes. They are tweaks trying to get it back to where I know I can be.

“Every tournament is important and you want to try and play well but sometimes it just has to be done.”

Despite his problems, McIlroy still fared better than Masters champion Danny Willett, who had a double-bogey at the 18th after finding water with his approach to card a 75; he is facing the prospect of a second consecutive missed cut.

Playing partner Lee Westwood  was only a shot better off, while two-time winner Graeme McDowell slumped to a nine-over-par 80.

It was also a disappointing day for Paul Dunne and Michael Hoey, who both shot 77.

Bjerregaard’s 66 contained a hole-in-one on the second hole from 202 yards and five birdies, despite playing with a new set of clubs after his own had been lost in transit.

“It was a great way to start my round,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s my first hole-in-one, so that was pretty sweet. My clubs got lost on the way down here so Nike made me a new set yesterday. Maybe I should just keep these now and let the airline company keep my old ones.”

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