‘Tired’ Rory McIlroy can’t take all the bullets for the PGA Tour – Paul McGinley

Rory McIlroy reacts after his tee shot on the 16th hole

Brian Keogh

Paul McGinley believes Rory McIlroy needs to stop carrying the PGA Tour on his back after putting in a jaded first-round performance in The Players Championship.

The Holywood star fired a four-over 76 that left him 12 shots behind debutant Chad Ramey, and while he says he can shoot 65 today to get back into the tournament, McGinley believes the Co Down star needs to focus purely on his golf between now and the Masters if he's to complete the career Grand Slam this year.

"I see the battery low, to be quite frank," McGinley said of 2019 champion McIlroy, who is tied 118th after opening with an over-par round for the third year in a row at TPC Sawgrass.

"When people have a bad day, we're very quick to rush to judgement and say, ‘oh, it's his golf swing, or it's his driver or his putting or he's got this technical issue going on’.

"And we forget about the importance of psychology in the game and how huge it is, particularly at this level."

McIlroy has been the unofficial front-man for the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV Golf and pointing to last week's seven-hour board meeting and his constant presence selling the new-look schedule of designated events to the media and fellow players, McGinley reckons it's time others stars stepped up to share the load.

"One of the features of his golf over the past 14 months has been his ability to focus," McGinley said on Golf Channel. "We've admired this from a distance. With everything going on, he's still been able to churn out the performances and the wins in the last year.

"It's quite incredible what he's achieved. But what I saw today was tired. I saw a guy that didn't have the same focus, a guy that was getting annoyed at himself, which was unlike him.

"He's been front and centre of everything's going on, and he's the guy taking the bullets from the media more so than other players. I'd like to see more players out there as well to back it up.

"They can't have just one spokesperson driving this ship forward, trying to get all the players on side… So all of this takes its toll and I just see Rory is tired.

"It's going to be a big ask to get back into this tournament. He says that he could choose 65 tomorrow, but he's still going to be well off the pace even at that. We saw some clumsiness from him today, and that's a sign that you're not focused."

Seamus Power got little going and shot a two-over 74 to share 94th in the clubhouse with 21 players still to finish while Shane Lowry snapped a club over his knee after running up a double-bogey six at the 15th in a 77 that left him 127th on five-over.

Three over for the day playing the 455-yard par-four, the Clara man drove into the trees on the right, but his attempted escape ricocheted further right into more trouble.

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Annoyed by his mistake, Lowry whacked the club off a tree before breaking it over his knee and tossing it onto the adjacent cart path. Yet he still scrambled a double-bogey six before finishing with three pars.

World number 225 Ramey (30) dominated on his debut as the field averaged 72.8, racking up eight birdies to lead by one stroke from two-time Major winner Collin Morikawa, whose 65 was the only other bogey-free round of the day.

Canada's Taylor Pendrith and American Ben Griffin were tied third after 67s, with up-and-coming star Justin Suh also five-under through 15 holes when play was suspended due to darkness.

After Morikawa, world number two Scottie Scheffler was the best of the big guns, carding a 68 to a 71 for current world number one Jon Rahm in that stellar three-ball with McIlroy to sit in a tie for sixth with Denny McCarthy, Sam Burns, Adam Svensson, Australia's Min Woo Lee, and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose were in a seven-man group just outside the top 10 after opening with 69s.