Tuesday 19 September 2017

Rory McIlroy faces struggle to retain title as he slips down leaderboard

Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a putt on the 13th green
Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a putt on the 13th green
Clubhouse leader Dustin Johnson. Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Reighning champion Rory McIlroy mixed the good, the bad, and the downright ugly in an eventful opening round at the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston yesterday.

McIlroy, bidding to win his first tournament of the year, had to settle for a one-over-par 72, leaving him six shots behind clubhouse leader Dustin Johnson who shot 66.

The Northern Irishman spoke on Thursday of his optimism about returning to a course on which he won in 2012 and 2016.

A month after parting company with caddie JP Fitzgerald after nine years together, he said he has been "happier and more jovial out there, and not getting as hard on myself."

And for a while, he looked in the mood to go after the target set earlier by Johnson.

A brace of birdies on holes five and six, the latter when he holed a putt from 50 feet for a three, put a spring in his step.

On the seventh, McIlroy gave a shot back to the course with a bogey six after getting out of position from his tee-shot.

Out in 35, McIlroy was still at minus-one when he came to the 213-yard par-three 11th hole, and produced a real shocker by taking four putts from 12 feet after landing his ball safely on the green.

The first putt was awful, as he sent the ball four feet past the cup.

His attempt to then slot the ball home for par also missed, leaving him a three-footer for bogey, but McIlroy failed to hit the target.

The tap-in for a double-bogey five was greeted with virtual silence as the world number four walked off the green doing his best to regain his composure.

He did that well enough to reel off three successive pars up to the 15th which he bogeyed after being bunkered off the tee.

McIlroy parred the 16th, made a good par save on the 17th from nine feet and then finished on a positive note with a birdie three at the 18th for his 72.

His performance level was way below that of Johnson, who won the Northern Trust title last weekend. "The golf game's in good form right now. I'm feeling good. I've got a lot of confidence," said Johnson.

Meanwhile, England's Lee Slattery had a double reason to be happy with his lead in the European Tour's D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague. First, he shot 65, seven-under, and, second, he finished before play was stopped at 2.46 pm local time (1.46pm Irish) due to torrential rain and course flooding. Play resumes this morning at 7.30am local time, with almost half the field still to finish their second rounds.

Darren Clarke was two-over through three holes, while Gary Hurley shot a 76 and was on five-over for the 36 holes.

Headfort club professional Brendan McGovern was among a group of five players in joint second place after round one of the Travis Perkins Masters at Woburn.

Former Masters champion Ian Woosnam filed a 69, three-under par, to lead by a shot from McGovern, Gary Orr and David Gilford, Philip Golding, and two-time Travis Perkins Masters winner Carl Mason.

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