Friday 19 January 2018

McIlroy bemoans lack of preparation as he battles to avoid early exit at Irish Open

Rory McIlroy watches his drive on the 14th tee during Day One of the 2014 Irish Open at Fota Island Resort
Rory McIlroy watches his drive on the 14th tee during Day One of the 2014 Irish Open at Fota Island Resort

Rory McIlroy came up with an ambitious, and rather expensive, solution to his travel problems after a poor opening round left him battling to avoid another early exit from the Irish Open.

McIlroy has an underwhelming record in his national championship, recording two top-10 finishes in seven appearances and missing the cut last year along with fellow major champions Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

The 25-year-old had the added incentives of being able to move top of the European Tour's Race to Dubai and getting back inside the world's top five with a good performance this week, but could only card a three-over-par 74 in perfect conditions at Fota Island.

McIlroy's clubs only arrived on Wednesday morning after being lost in transit from last week's US Open, and although the two-time major winner still managed an approximate 62 in the pre-tournament pro-am, it was hardly the ideal preparation.

"I'm jet-lagged wherever I go because I'm travelling so much, so it's not like that's an excuse for me," said McIlroy, who was joint 23rd at Pinehurst on six over par. "But not being able to do much on Monday and Tuesday was really frustrating, I would have liked to have hit some balls and done some practice those couple days to prepare.

"But sometimes that's just the way it goes and I just need to play better the next few years and get my own plane so that doesn't happen."

McIlroy carded six bogeys and three birdies in his round, raising his arms aloft in mock celebration after the last of the birdies from 15 feet on the ninth, his final hole.

"It's tough because I feel like I have been playing well for a while and I am still getting days like this," added McIlroy, who won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last month. "When you are playing well you should be captialising on that and not throwing in scores like I did today.

"I still drove the ball great and got in the positions that you need to, but short-sided myself a couple of times, hit a couple of loose shots with my wedges and could not get a putt to drop.

"I was pretty sloppy with the scoring clubs so I might head to the range to work on those. I need to do better tomorrow to be here for the weekend.

"I need something in the mid-60s that gets me back in the tournament. All the par fives out here are reachable for me. There's a few short par fours and there's plenty of chances to score. I'll try to get to four or five under for the tournament and go from there."

McIlroy was joint 123rd in the 156-man field and 10 shots adrift of leader Mikko Ilonen, the world number 63 firing eight birdies and one bogey to establish a new course record of 64.

Ilonen, who won the British Amateur title in 2000 at next month's Open Championship venue Hoylake, is looking to climb into the world's top 50 for the first time and boosted his chances with five birdies in his last seven holes.

"I made a mess of our 10th hole, the first hole," said Ilonen, who lost a play-off to Sergio Garcia in the Qatar Masters in January. "I hit a big drive, was in the middle of the fairway with a sand wedge and I walk off with a five.

"Luckily I didn't get too angry with it and I just get going and kept hitting greens and kept giving myself chances. Luckily in the end I made a few putts."

Germany's Marcel Siem - whose wife is expecting their second child on Monday - also made more than his fair share of putts, the world number 125 covering the back nine in 29 to card a 66 and share second place with Swedish duo Robert Karlsson and Magnus A Carlsson.

Karlsson was European number one in 2008 but suffered from blurred vision the following year and withdrew from the 2012 Open on the eve of the event after suffering from a long-game version of the "yips."

"It was nice, I'm very, very happy," said Karlsson, who was sixth in his native Sweden recently thanks to a closing 63. "I worked quite hard when I've been at home since the Nordea Masters, so it's been nice to keep it going.

"I've done a bit of work with my coach and things are coming together quite nicely. The long game was very, very good today."

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington returned a two-under 69 matched by defending champion Paul Casey, who dropped two shots in his last six holes to finish one behind playing partner Graeme McDowell.

English teenager Matt Fitzpatrick, who was the leading amateur in last week's US Open, carded a one-over 72 in his first tournament round as a professional.

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