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Frustrated Rory McIlroy well off pace in Genesis Invitational while stranded Padraig Harrington in Covid limbo


Rory McIlroy lets go of his club as he tees off on the 11th hole

Rory McIlroy lets go of his club as he tees off on the 11th hole

Rory McIlroy lets go of his club as he tees off on the 11th hole

Rory McIlroy struggled in "tricky" afternoon conditions and opened with a frustrating, two-over 73 that left him nine shots off the pace in The Genesis Invitational at a firm and fast Riviera Country Club.

As Pádraig Harrington drove overnight from Pebble Beach to Los Angeles following his 10-day COVID-19 quarantine and struggled to a four-over 75, McIlroy was out of sorts with his long game and ineffective on the lightning-fast greens.

"It's tricky," said the Holywood star, who made two birdies and four bogeys in a 73 he found “a little bit” frustrating as Sam Burns shot a seven-under 64 to lead by two strokes from Sheffield's Matthew Fitzpatrick and American Max Homa.

"The wind was up a touch, greens were getting a little firm. I think it was one of those days where it's just as easy to shoot two or three-under as it is to shoot two or three-over.

"Obviously, there were a couple of good scores out there, but you didn't have to do too much wrong to sort of be hovering around even par and be on the other side of it."

The world No 7 found just six fairways and only seven greens in regulation, making just one putt over six feet as he finished the day tied for 85th in his bid to win for the first time for 15 months.

"They're quick," he said of the greens. "If you get on the wrong side of the hole, even some putts that you feel like you're on the right side of the hole, you're being somewhat defensive because late in the day you don't want to be leaving yourself too many three- and four-footers out here.

"So yeah, tough to sort of do everything today, but especially hole putts because the greens are so tricky and so fast."

Burns (24) opened with an eagle three, and while he bogeyed the sixth and 12th, he made up for those mistakes with seven birdies, including three in a row to finish.

Fitzpatrick had just 23 putts in a five-under 66 to set the early pace as Sweden's Alex Noren shot a five-under 67 to finish the day in an eight-man log-jam for fourth with Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, Tyler McCumber, Jason Kokrak, Australian Matt Jones and Chile's Joaquin Niemann.

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World number one Dustin Johnson was a pedestrian level par with six holes to play before he made five threes in a row, picking up birdies at the fifth, seventh and eighth before getting up and down from greenside sand for a closing par.

His three-under 68 that left him tied 12th in a seven-man group alongside fellow major winners Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and the resurgent Francesco Molinari.

As for Harrington, Europe's Ryder Cup skipper has added next week's Puerto Rico Open and next month's Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship to his schedule as he's stranded in the US following last week's positive COVID-19 test.

"I can't go home without a negative PCR, so I don't have any option but to keep on going," said Harrington, who doesn't qualify for next week's WGC-Workday Championship in Florida but plans to play Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Honda Classic and the Valero Texas Open over the next seven weeks.

"Even if I wanted to stop, I have nowhere to go and I'm kind of in limbo at the moment with that. Hopefully, I'll get a negative test the next few weeks, but it could be a couple of months before I get a negative test, which would allow me to travel back to Ireland."

The veteran (49) was pleased with his long game but he admitted he struggled to judge the pace on the quick greens despite practising on the carpet in his hotel during his self-isolation.

"I did struggle with the putter — not on the short putts but on the longer putts," Harrington said. "I putted plenty on the carpet in the room. That didn't do me any good, did it?"

He added: "As I said, physically, I was fine. Today I was happy that I wasn't tired or anything out there, but I did struggle on those greens. They're tough greens, to be honest. A lot of stress even if you're in the whole of your health out there."

Explaining how he drove overnight from Pebble Beach to Los Angeles and slept for a few hours on arrival before his 12:38pm tee-time, he added: "It wasn't too bad a drive, I've got to say, but yeah, it was not a stress at all, the sleep I had last week.

"The only thing I was worried about was by 3:00 in the afternoon it was my nap time."

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