Rory McIlroy struggles to get to grips with Doral
Rory McIlroy's new-look putting style failed to pay off as he took 33 putts and double bogeyed his final hole in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral last night.
But Shane Lowry was thrilled as he matched McIlroy's 71 despite cracking his favourite driver in practice and being forced to use his back-up.
While McIlroy holed little, the world No 3 looked to be cruising to a round in the 60s at the demanding Miami venue until he turned an eagle chance into a three-putt par at his 17th hole and then splashed down at the par-three ninth to run up a closing double-bogey five.
His 71 left him five shots behind American Scott Piercy and Australian Marcus Fraser, who shot six-under 66s to lead by one from 45-year old Phil Mickelson, the 2009 champion.
McIlroy did not putt badly at Donald Trump's famed Blue Monster but while he missed just a pair of putts inside eight feet, he lacked conviction with the blade and confessed that he needs time to learn to trust his pace as he watched Jordan Spieth take 29 putts in a 69 and Jason Day 30 in a 72.
"My speed wasn't too good on the greens," said McIlroy, who ended the day on one under par tied with Lowry, who made an eagle and two birdies to come back from a slow start as Graeme McDowell dropped two late shots and signed for a 74.
"I was leaving a lot of putts short…. It's the first day competitively with a bit of a new grip for the putting. But I felt like it was pretty good. I'm just disappointed about the finish.
"I just need to get out there tomorrow and try and pick up those shots quickly again and try to start from there."
He single putted just four greens and while it looked as though he would walk off without making an error, he three-putted the eighth (his 17th) for par, coming up seven feet short with a 37-foot eagle putt before missing for birdie.
McIlroy feigned throwing his putter into the lake there in a reprise of last year's three-iron toss, although Donal Trump had that club retrieved by a frogman.
"One club in the water here is enough I think," McIlroy said with a grin, adding that his putting grip "felt good."
"I've putted enough with it, obviously over the last few days, but in the past, as well, that it does feel pretty comfortable.
"I guess with the longer putts, I do feel like I have to hit them harder. I don't know if that's a combination of me thinking the greens are a little bit faster than what they are and just having to adjust for that a little bit. So that's why you see me leave a lot of putts short out there."
There was little wrong with McIlroy's long game as he gave himself a birdie putt and two eagle looks on his first three greens, as he started on the back nine.
Having reduced the 614-yard 10th to drive and a five wood, he tickled an 18 footer to 18 inches to open with a birdie.
He was short again with his birdie effort from 30 feet at the 11th and again from 35 feet for eagle at the 12th but made a three-and-a-half foot there to go two under.
His putter couldn't save him in the par-three 13th, where he missed a 12 footer after pulling his 210-yard tee shot, and had to grind hard for his par at the 14th after leaving his slippery, 40-foot approach putt five feet short.
But he birdied the dangerous, 152-yard 15th from seven feet, and then followed a missed chance from inside nine feet at the 16th by rolling in a 12 footer for birdie at the 17th.
His bogey at the 18th, where he got a friendly bounce off the palm trees into he right semi-rough only to overshoot the green and fail to get up and down, was a minor frustration.
His par putt from eight feet was easily his worst effort of the front nine but he was soon on the birdie trail again, caressing home a four-feet at the 605-yard first for birdie after a fine wedge from 113 yards.
Lowry was two over early but fought back to match McIlroy's score as McDowell got back to level after an early double bogey at the fourth only to bogey the 14th and 16th for a two-over 74.
Fined for bad language last week, Lowry dropped early shots at the third and seventh - two of the toughest holes on the course - but came back strongly and drove the ball well with his back-up driver after cracking his favourite weapon on the range on Wednesday.
"I've had the driver for a few years and it's the one that brought me victory last year in the Bridgestone so it's been a very special driver," Lowry said. "Fortunately, I had a back-up driver and that performed superbly so I feel very lucky.
"A 71 is a great start on what is not an easy golf course, so it's a score I can now build on."
WGC- Cadillac Championship, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0