THE nightmare continued for Rory McIlroy at windswept Conway Farms.
McIlroy's title defence at the BMW Championship was blighted by error and even embarrassment from the off as an opening 78, his worst round in a FexEx Cup play-off, left the Holywood native reeling 15 shots off the pace.
Needing a top-seven finish to squeeze into the 30-man field at next week's Tour Championship, McIlroy instead became embroiled in yet another desperate rearguard action as he slumped into a share of 66th place in the 70-man field.
With no cut at Conway Farms, the 24-year-old Ulsterman at least will have somewhere to go this weekend, though the way he's playing right now, that could be a mixed blessing.
McIlroy arrived in Chicago determined not to make any more double-bogeys after eight of them undermined his chances of contending in the first two of the US Tour's end-of-season play-offs.
Yet that modest ambition was soon spiked as McIlroy hit his second tee shot of the day into the water on the par-three 11th, leading to an ugly five.
After going through the turn in three over, his hopes of redemption on the front nine were obliterated by a humbling triple-bogey seven at the first.
Though McIlroy's made a manful attempt to keep his chin up on the course since last month's Bridgestone World Golf Championship at Firestone, he's been dogged by an baffling procession of setbacks which he attributed to "silly" mistakes.
He made three double-bogeys at Firestone and followed up with one double-bogey and a treble at Oak Hill as he tied eighth in his defence of the US PGA.
McIlroy then stumbled to four double-bogeys in the first FedEx Cup play-off at the Barclays, followed by another four as he tried to hang onto the Deutsche Bank title. Two of those came in the first five holes of his final round at TPC Boston, snuffing out the promise of a sparkling 64 the previous afternoon.
Including yesterday, McIlroy's had a withering 13 double-bogeys and two treble-bogeys in his last 17 competitive rounds, a staggering contrast with the infallible golf he played on his imperious march to world No 1 12 month ago.
During a break in the Bahamas last week, McIlroy worked tirelessly on his short game, convinced by encouraging Tour stats that his driving and approach play are solid.
Though he holed a 24-foot putt for an encouraging birdie at 16, McIlroy dropped a shot out of a greenside trap at the next, followed by an untidy bogey six at 18. Even worse came at one, where McIlroy hit his approach into the left bunker, clattered his escape through the green and chipped to four feet before a cringing three-putt.
Further bunker trouble greenside at eight set him up for another annoying bogey six before the finish.
McIlroy made the going look a lot more difficult than FedEx Cup holder Brandt Snedeker, who established the early clubhouse lead with an eight-under-par 63 that included a sensational streak of seven birdies in succession.
Graeme McDowell, needing a top-six finish to make the Tour Championship for the first time, kept that target in sight with a fighting one-under 70.
Deutsche Bank winner Henrik Stenson's FedEx Cup points lead was under threat from Snedeker after the Swede opened with a lacklustre one-over 72.
McIlroy at least finished better than Lee Westwood, who had seven bogeys and one double-bogey in a nine-over 80.
BMW Championship, Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0