Australian Open: Rory McIlroy still driven to reach the top again
RORY McIlroy is driving as well as ever but his putting has let him down in the Australian Open at Royal Sydney.
The world number six's problems since changing his equipment this year have been well documented and he arrived in Sydney this week still searching for his first title of 2013.
After home favourite Adam Scott's brilliant opening round – a record-breaking 10 under par 62, seven ahead of the Ulsterman – McIlroy's chances of success in Australia already appear remote, and the Holywood star was left ruing four missed short putts that could have made a huge difference to his score.
"Missed three or four short ones out there," he said. "Wasteful, yeah. I felt it could have been a lot lower.
"Off the tee, I'm driving the ball the best I ever have, it's just a matter of being more efficient and scoring better.
"That's really it. I only played the par-fives at one-under and the way I'm driving it, I should be playing those at four-under," he said.
A missed birdie putt at the seventh and three-putt from the edge of the green at the 16th were the most obvious wasted opportunities, while a pair of bogeys shortly after the turn halted his momentum after a solid front nine.
"I got the most out of it, especially after bogeys on 10 and 11, so to get in the 60s was decent," he said.
"It was nice to finish with a birdie at the last, makes up a little bit for not making birdie at 16," he added.
McIlroy felt conditions may have been a little trickier for the late starters after US Masters champion Scott had posted his stunning round early on.
"The wind might have got up for us a little bit this afternoon but still 62 on that course is great going," McIlroy added.
"When I was sitting over breakfast, I saw he'd birdied the first six holes and thought, 'oh nice'."
Scott has had an incredible year, following up his Augusta triumph with a win at the Barclays and claiming the Australian PGA and Masters title before helping Jason Day win the World Cup of Golf for his country last weekend.
For McIlroy, it was a reminder of his 2012 season when he became world number one and won the US PGA and a string of other tournaments.
"He's doing what I did last year and (world number three Henrik) Stenson's doing the same thing," the 24-year-old said.
"I've been in that position before, I know what it's like. That's what I'm trying to get back to."
Scott, meanwhile, rated his course-record round as one of his best ever – but maintained that his picture-perfect swing was not quite where he wanted it to be.
The world number two lost his rhythm midway through his round and had to settle for eight straight pars.
He bounced back with a superb tee shot on the par-three sixth and sunk the short putt, however, to spark another run of four straight birdies and smash the previous course record by three shots.
"I can't sit here and complain about anything but, a bit like last week in the first round, the swing wanders on a couple of shots and it did it again," Scott said. "It's not quite in the slot. It's not as free-flowing as the first couple of weeks (at the Australian PGA Championship and Australian Masters)."
Scott, looking to become the second man to win Australia's Triple Crown in a single season, led little-known Canadian Ryan Yip and American John Young Kim by three shots heading into round two after the pair posted classy 65s.
Meanwhile, Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin is just four shots adrift of leader Morten Orum Madsen after the opening day of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa.
Maybin's three-under-par 69 left him sharing eighth, four behind the Dane who bagged his first European Tour win at last week's South African Open.
Belfast's Michael Hoey shot a 76 after suffering a double bogey and two other dropped shots in his last five holes.
Defending champion Charl Schwartzel, the former Masters winner, is on four under.
Madsen said: "It seemed easy but it definitely wasn't, it was pretty tough out there and the course was playing long with the wind."