Irish Open: Rory McIlroy suffers bogey meltdown in the Mourne Mountains as Padraig Harrington soars up leaderboard
The magnificent Mournes provide the stunning backdrop for the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
When Rory McIlroy began his quest for glory at 8am yesterday morning, he wasn't thinking he'd have to climb a mountain that high today to stay in a tournament which his very own charitable Foundation is hosting.
Well, he has to now after a shocking first round nine over par 80, which included NINE bogeys and NO birdies and at one stage left him LAST in the field.
By the end of play he was THIRTEEN shots behind joint leaders, fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington and Germany's Maximilian Kieffer on four under, with only two players in a worse position (Gregory Havret +10 and Michael McDermott +11).
It was the fourth time in his professional career that McIlroy had scored 80 or over. He did it in South Africa as a kid, at St Andrews in The Open and most famously of all when he suffered a final round Masters meltdown at Augusta.
A stirring comeback is required this afternoon from 1pm on the first tee otherwise McIlroy will miss the cut and the weekend action... and the fans will miss him.
The sell-out first day 20,000 crowd arrived at the breathtaking Royal County Down course knowing they would be in for a memorable Thursday with tales to tell, but nobody saw this Rory story coming. The script had the Holywood hero being the star of the show.
Instead the man everyone had travelled to see didn't turn up. This was not the real Rory McIlroy... the one who thrilled the world last year by adding two major titles to the two he already had or the one who has won three times this year, including twice in his last four tournaments.
This Rory McIlroy was a shadow of himself, looking jaded and flat, as he walked down the fairways and on to the greens, applauded by star struck fans every step of the way. By the end McIlroy admitted the applause had gone from enthusiastic to sympathetic. Not what Rory wants to hear.
So, where did it all go wrong?
The Ulsterman is at his bewildering best when he is totally focused on his game. Let's be honest... this week he has had other things on his mind.
With his commitment to the tournament, McIlroy has done much more than usual off the course, from entertaining guests to hosting parties to raising money and awareness for the Cancer Fund for Children at Daisy Lodge, and this having worked hard for months to attract some of the top golfers on the planet to play in Newcastle.
It all took its toll yesterday, in what is his fifth event in a row, not the norm for players of his stature. They like to take some time out to refresh.
It was thought that a missed cut at last week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth would give him time to recharge some batteries. So far, not so good.
If his preparation for this golf tournament, which he described as his 'fifth major' for the year, was not ideal it's also clear the 26-year-old's form has dipped since that staggering record breaking round of 61 during his Wells Fargo Championship victory earlier this month.
In his opening round yesterday he dropped too many cheap shots.
His driving off the tee wasn't great, though other aspects of his game were the real problems. When McIlroy is at his peak, his iron shots are daring. Yesterday they were draining, for him and the spectators, rarely offering a birdie chance to get a Ryder Cup type roar echoing around the course.
On the greens, McIlroy seemed less comfortable than Sepp Blatter at an FBI convention. He was mis-reading lines, coming up short or wide with his putts, or both, from short and long distance.
On a course he enjoys playing he appeared to lack confidence. Conditions were tough at times with the wind and rain, but not when McIlroy and playing partners Rickie Fowler (level par) and Martin Kaymer (+8) started out at the 10th hole.
By the turn McIlroy was five over after carding 41 for his front nine with five bogeys, four in a row from 15 to 18. His back nine wasn't much better with four more dropped shots taking him to nine over.
On home turf in his own event, Rory had suffered a shocker. And he knew it.
"My poor iron play led to missed greens, which led to giving myself a lot of eight to 12-footers for pars and that led to missing all of them. It was pretty good off the tee, but it got worse as I got closer to the green," he said.
On the eve of the tournament McIlroy had revealed he would donate his winnings to Daisy Lodge.
He added: "It's disappointing. I want to go out there and play well, not just for myself, but for a lot of other people. I now need to pick myself up and get out there again and try and shoot a good score. Obviously I would love to be here for the weekend. That'll be my goal starting off, to try and make my first birdie of the tournament and claw my way back up towards the cut line and see what I can do.
"The course is tough, though not quite as tough as I made it look out there, The crowd is phenomenal. I want to give them something to cheer about and not just have sympathy claps as I did coming off the ninth green."
McIlroy did not feel the pressure of playing at his home tournament was too much, insisting: "I've said for the last couple of years I want to try and embrace the Irish Open and relish the fact that everyone wants to see you do well. You should be able to use that to your advantage. I just haven't been able to do that as of yet.
"I've missed the cut the last two years at the Irish Open, so I don't want to make it three in a row. I want to go out there and fight for it and if I can sneak in, that'll be great."