Catastrophic start, nightmare finish - Rory McIlroy's Open hopes in tatters after disastrous first round
Open favourite Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare start and a finish that was almost as bad to effectively end his hopes of lifting the Claret Jug on home soil at Royal Portrush.
On the Dunluce Links where he announced himself as a star of the future with a course record of 61 aged 16, McIlroy began with an eight and signed off with a seven in an opening 79 as his five-year major drought showed no signs of ending.
"On the tee from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy!" 🇬🇧— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 18, 2019
Huge roars on the first tee from the home fans, but it's a nervy start from the favourite! 😰
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At eight over par McIlroy was 12 shots off the clubhouse target set by Ireland's Shane Lowry, who held a one-shot lead over a six-strong group which included former Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Scotland's Robert MacIntyre.
Northern Ireland's best hope for a home winner could hardly have begun in worse fashion having run up a quadruple-bogey on the first after pulling his tee shot out of bounds on the 424-yard par four.
McIlroy's wayward iron shot hit a female spectator and damaged a mobile phone in her pocket before ending up five feet outside the white posts which mark the internal out of bounds.
The four-time major winner then found the left rough with his second attempt and hacked his fourth shot into a bush from where he took a penalty drop, chipped to seven feet and two-putted for a demoralising eight.
Nightmare start for Rory McIlroy 😲— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 18, 2019
After going out of bounds off the tee, the favourite makes +4 on the opening hole
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The first five holes were playing downwind and offering plenty of birdie opportunities, but McIlroy could not take advantage of the par-five second and dropped another shot on the third after his tee shot ran through the green.
More trouble looked on the cards on the reachable par-four fifth hole after McIlroy carved his tee shot into heavy rough, but he was fortunate to find the ball and almost holed his birdie attempt after pitching to 30 feet.
McIlroy picked up his first birdie of the day on the par-five seventh and narrowly missed for another on the next, those two holes being created from the adjacent Valley Links to replace the original 17th and 18th which are being used to house the spectator village.
A birdie from 15 feet on the ninth took McIlroy to the turn in three over par but after six straight pars he three-putted from five feet to double bogey the 16th and then ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 18th to complete a miserable day.
Lowry's 67 was his best opening round in any major and he said: "It's my best by about eight shots. That was nice. It was nice to shoot a good score and hopefully I can go out and keep at it the next few days."
In stark contrast to McIlroy, his fellow Northern Irishman Darren Clarke had enjoyed a dream start as he hit the opening tee shot at 6.35am after enjoying a prolonged ovation during his stroll to the first tee.
No stranger to coping with emotional tee shots after playing in the 2006 Ryder Cup shortly after the death of his first wife, Heather, Clarke found the right-hand side of the fairway with his drive, hit his approach to 15 feet and promptly holed for a birdie.
The 2011 champion, who plays mainly on the Champions Tour since turning 50, also birdied the third and fifth to raise hopes of a fairytale result, but eventually had to settle for a level-par 71.
"It could not have been better, hitting the first tee shot and making birdie. Wonderful," Clarke said.