Watching Rory McIlroy can be a dangerous game these days. Just ask his dad, Gerry. Quite literally, he found himself in the firing line as the Northern Irishman’s Masters misadventures continued on Thursday with his worst-ever opening round at Augusta.
It was bad enough when he opened with a 75 last November but this was even more depressing, an error-strewn 76 that leaves him with yet another uphill second-round battle simply to be around for the weekend.
McIlroy is no fewer than 11 shots off the lead, as Englishman Justin Rose shot his lowest round at the Masters to establish a four-stroke advantage. The Rose revival featured a blistering streak of scoring that saw him play the last 11 holes in nine-under par.
Just like November, Rory McIlroy has left himself with a big challenge after a horrid first round
What happened at the 7th hole will be recalled in the McIlroy family household for quite some time to come. A wayward drive left Rory needing to manufacture a shot around the Georgia pines, but the result was another horrible miscue.
‘Fore right!’ he screamed. Hitting any spectator with an errant blow is every player’s nightmare but what if the poor soul is your dad, for goodness sake?
At least Gerry saw the funny side, after the ball struck him on the upper thigh. After confirming there was no lasting damage he cheerfully told Sportsmail, walking up the ninth: ‘The volunteer marshal said I might want to hang around, that he was sure Rory would give me a signed glove.’
Funnily enough, Gerry passed on that option, but the viewing never got any easier, during another opening-day horror show for his out-of-sorts son. Since starting with a 65 a decade ago, McIlroy has only broken 70 once in the first round, and it quickly became apparent there was no chance of it happening on this occasion.
McIlroy was hardly the only big name or big hitter to falter. Defending champion Dustin Johnson double bogeyed the last for a 74, while the biggest casualty of all might well have been Bryson DeChambeau, who hit 76 and is in danger of following up his flop last November, when he finished behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, with an even more embarrassing showing. With the wind unfavourable, he chickened out of cutting the corner at the par four first and the rest of the front nine proved an anti-climax as well, as he covered them in 40 blows.
It was an error-strewn day, and he even hit his dad Gerry with a wayward shot on the seventh
The green jackets might fret about what he will do to their beloved course but so far the scoreline has an emphatic look: Augusta 2, Bryson 0.
In November the relatively short hitters didn’t have much chance in the soft conditions but here was their redemption.
The first man to reach the sanctuary of the clubhouse having broken 70 was wily left-hander Brian Harman, a 34-year-old Georgia native who only got into the event courtesy of breaking into the world’s top 50 after finishing tied third at the Players Championship last month.
He was soon joined by Hideki Matsuyama, the gifted Japanese who has been long saddled with the burden of trying to become the first male golfer from his nation to win a major. Given the difficult conditions, it was no surprise to see 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed join the group on 70.
For the English contingent, all the good news came in the late afternoon shadows.
In addition to Rose’s resurgence, there was a satisfying 71`from Tyrrell Hatton, who missed the halfway cut in all three majors that were played last year.
This is the fifth Masters for the 29-year-old from Marlow and the first time he has broken par in the opening round.
McIlroy’s wayward shot on the seventh struck his dad on the back of the leg on Thursday
Tommy Fleetwood had a hole in one at the 16th to rescue a mediocre day as he posted a 74. Earlier, Paul Casey had to settle for a 73 despite playing the front nine in 33 shots, as he made a flurry of mistakes on the inward half. Matt Fitzpatrick had two bogeys in the last four holes for a 74.
As for McIlroy, his problems now appear so ingrained it’s becoming hard to watch. His driving, so long the bedrock of his game when playing well, was off-radar, leading to him playing two recovery shots off pine needles in the first three holes. Although he escaped with pars on both occasions, it was hardly the most auspicious of starts.
The bogeys soon followed. At the fifth he was out with his distance control with his approach and then at the par three 6th he pulled an eight iron at least 15 yards off target. Then came his third bogey in a row at the fateful 7th.
Just when it looked as if he might be finding a semblance of rhythm, following a birdie at the 8th with two good shots on the 9th, he three-putted from no distance for a dismal opening half of 39 shots.
McIlroy faces a big challenge ahead on the second day just to stay for the weekend
Even during good times at the Masters, McIlroy has often struggled at the 11th hole.
His stroke average of 4.33 is his highest for any par four at Augusta. Here, following another pushed drive, his recovery shot found the slope on the fairway that leads inexorably into the water beside the green. After a penalty drop, the 31-year-old had to hole a slippery 20ft putt to drop only one shot.
So to the 13th, the hole where he knew the game was up a decade ago when he collapsed in the final round and shot 80.
Slumped over his driver on that occasion, he came up with a mirror image this time round as his approach found Rae’s Creek. It led to his sixth bogey in the space of just eight holes.
With a new coach in Pete Cowen and new swing rhythms to bed down, this poor showing hardly came as a surprise. Here was another resounding example of the old cliche that Augusta is the place where you show off your game, not find it.
Justin Rose got off to a flyer shooting seven under par – 11 shots ahead of McIlroy
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