McIlroy struggles to gain momentum in roller-coaster round
Rory McIlroy's ninth round of an injury-curtailed start to 2017 produced a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly as the world No 3 struggled to impose his game on the Bay Hill Club and Lodge layout in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The good was exemplified by his 147-yard wedge shot on the par-four 13th when his ball dropped over the flagstick and skipped by the edge of the hole.
So near to an eagle that one, but McIlroy was grateful to tap in for birdie after a bogey, double-bogey start to his back nine on holes 10 and 11.
On the 10th he three-putted from 18 feet, and he found water on his second shot on the 11th
McIlroy failed to take advantage of the par-five 12th, on which he had to settle for a par, but 13 proved a lucky number as he got a shot back, leaving him one over par with five holes to play.
From there it was an Orlando roller-coaster ride to the finish.
The four-time Major champion, who has played just two tournaments so far this year due to his rib fracture injury, made par on the 14th.
He then bogeyed the 15th, birdied 16, notched up a par three on 17 and drove the ball a whopping 325 yards down the 18th fairway.
With just 143 yards to go, McIlroy went birdie hunting, only to see his second shot fall short, but he caught a break when his ball hit a rock on the edge of the water hazard.
Amazingly, the ball ricocheted across the green, coming to rest in a greenside bunker close to the stands, leaving him a downhill lie.
He splashed out of the sand to seven feet, but failed with his par attempt and had to settle for 74, two over par.
McIlroy played in one of the marquee groups alongside Sam Saunders, grandson of the late Palmer, and US Ryder Cup player Brandt Snedeker.
The tournament, the first since Palmer's death last September, has been dominated by the tributes paid to the great man's enduring legacy, but McIlroy intended to focus on the golf.
He viewed it as a matter of respect to avoid dredging up memories of 'The King' with Saunders between shots
"You're trying to do your job, and so out of respect to him I'll be business as usual, and let him play his game and we'll go from there," he said before they teed off.
Saunders got to two under par at one stage, but like McIlroy, dropped shots on the back nine and signed for a 74.
Graeme McDowell, a tournament host for the week, was out in 37 and got home in 35 for level-par 72.
Argentina's Emiliano Grillo posted a super 67 early in the day and was later joined by Matt Fitzpatrick on five-under par.
Lucas Glover, the 2009 US Open champion, former European Ryder Cup player Paul Casey and Charley Hoffman each carded a 68 to lie one shot off the pace.
Reigning champion Jason Day registered an opening 70.
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0pm