McIlroy's Open hopes take another battering
There is no other way to look at it - Rory McIlroy's Open preparations are in disarray. With less than a week to go before the third Major of the season, the world No 4 is facing the prospect of missing his third cut in as many events after a ghastly opening round at the Scottish Open.
The folklore of this event already has it that this multi-millionaire - whose off-course earnings top £25 million per annum - travelled over from Belfast to Ayrshire on the ferry. But, in golf terms, he could really do with a lifeboat.
His two-over 74 put him nine off the lead and outside the top 100. McIlroy's disgust was summed up by his uncharacteristic decision to swerve the media afterwards.
After finishing last week's Irish Open in a tie for 118th, the 28-year-old is desperate to make this cut.
A rib injury blighted the first half of his season, and he requires the game-time and is plainly in need of the confidence. Royal Birkdale should suit McIlroy. But no course would suit in this form.
McIlroy's wedge play was nothing more than woeful. Starting on the 10th, he missed the green on the 120-yard par-three 11th and, on the 12th, wasted a fine drive with another skewed approach that pros would normally nail.
On the 13th came the nadir. With a wedge in his hands, he could only locate the ditch short of the green. A duff and two putts later and the result was a double-bogey six. Four-over after four, and the conditions could have been described as generous.
McIlroy launched a fightback, of sorts, until a final-hole bogey sent his mood into reverse again. It is difficult to envisage the 2014 Open champion launching a challenge in Southport next week, although the Northern Irishman could click in an instant.
Mikko Ilonen's blemish-free 65 afforded a cushion of two shots over a group on five-under, including Pádraig Harrington, Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler. Paul Dunne is among a group of six players on four-under after another encouraging opening round.
For Poulter, his 67 was promising as he felt he was nowhere near his ball-striking best.
"The last couple of days, I haven't hit it all that well, so I've spent a bit of time on the range," he said. "I was concerned that with the wind off the left my misses are to the right. That's never good, especially with so much trouble down the right side here. I got myself in a couple of spots of bother, but made a few putts and it adds up to a nice score."
Poulter was runner-up the last time the Open was held at Birkdale and he would not be Ian Poulter if he did not believe he could go one better this time around. No matter what he says about having "low expectations". "But they're good to have," Poulter claimed. "You can only be pleasantly surprised, then."
It was Harrington who denied Poulter nine years ago and the 45-year-old signified that he will not merely be returning on a ceremonial trip down memory fairway. He carded seven birdies and two bogeys to build on some positive form in Portstewart last week as he works his way back from injury.
Harrington's 67 was completed as the forecast rain belatedly arrived and included what he described as a "minor miracle" on the 16th and a chip-in for birdie on the next.
"We were very lucky to find the ball on the 16th and my provisional was in a bunker," the three-time Major winner said. "I was staring at a seven but managed to take a penalty drop, get it up near the green and hole the par putt from around 90 feet."
Dunne had just one bogey in his five-birdie round among the early starters, while Graeme McDowell's prospects of grabbing a qualifying berth for Birkdale look remote after his three-over opening 75.
Darren Clarke will be at The Open but his form will be a massive concern - he propped up the field at Dundonald Links last night after an 80. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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