Rory McIlroy admitted to feeling "a little lost" as he struggled to a first round of 74 in the Irish Open that left him eight shots off the lead and battling to make the cut.
McIlroy won five times last year, including his second major title in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, but has struggled to reproduce that form in 2013. The 24-year-old finished 41st in the US Open at Merion a fortnight ago and on Wednesday apologised for throwing a club and bending his nine iron out of shape during a final round of 76.
Sweden's Oscar Floren carded a six-under-par 66 to lead by one from former champion Shane Lowry, Michael Hoey, Joost Luiten, Peter Uihlein and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet.
Lowry, who was still an amateur when he won at Baltray in 2009, was playing alongside McIlroy - whom he beat in the first round of the Accenture Match Play in February - while the third member of the group, the in-form Thomas Bjorn, carded a 68 that was matched by the likes of Paul Casey and former Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
McIlroy cut a disconsolate figure after his round and there was a long pause when he was asked what was going wrong.
"I don't really know," the world number two said. "No aspects of my game are standing out as strong. I'm hitting it well on the range and struggling hitting shots out on the course. The game is not coming as easy to me as it did last year.
"Off the tee I'm missing it left and right and it's difficult to stand on the tee and be confident that at least one side is out of play. I don't know if it's a case of playing through it or grinding it out on the range.
"I just feel a little lost at the moment. I had a good chat with my dad and Michael Bannon (his coach) the Saturday night of the US Open and felt like we got a bit of direction from there, but it's tough when you have rounds like this or you have tournaments where you think you're getting somewhere and all of a sudden you're stopped in your tracks and you've got to re-assess everything again.
"I'm staying patient and I don't want to say I'm accepting this, but there's nothing else I can do apart from trying to play well, practise and try to hit better shots."