Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Sawgrass is a cut above as McIlroy fails to sparkle

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland chips to the 11th green during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship

Rory McIlroy could not repeat the stunning form he showed at Quail Hollow on Sunday in the opening round of golf’s richest prize, the Players’ Championship in Sawgrass yesterday.

McIlroy, winner of his first US Tour title in magnificent fashion at the weekend, endured a decidedly uncomfortable first day in Florida and ended up alongside Padraig Harrington at one over par to at least stay in contention.

“I found it quite tough to get anything going and struggled to read these Bermuda greens,” said McIlroy.

“There was definitely a different atmosphere to Sunday. I hit it ok apart from a terrible shot on the eighth and it's so bunched that a good start tomorrow can get me into the top 20.”

Tiger Woods dug deep to avoid a repeat of his Quail Hollow horror show.

Six days after the dreadful 79 which sent him crashing out by eight shots, Woods produced a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly and yet somehow was two under par after 13 holes.

Woods eventually finished with a two-under 70 and that put him level with Masters champion Phil Mickelson, the man who could take his world number one spot if he finishes outside the top five.

But both were four shots off the lead, held jointly by Robert Allenby who turned in 32 and then had a hat-trick of birdies from the second to take over at the top from JB Holmes and Davis Love, with the former catching up.

Graeme McDowell was one under after 16.

The European challenge was being led by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

Donald, runner-up in 2005, returned a five-under-par 67 and shared third spot, while Westwood was one further back with two holes still to go.

While Donald was all smiles, compatriot Greg Owen was all seething fury after becoming yet another victim of one of the most famous holes in the sport.

A quadruple bogey seven on the tiny 137-yard 17th left the Mansfield player ready to explode after he handed in a one-over 73.

Owen’s nine-iron tee shot to the near island green failed to carry the water and then from the drop zone his next attempt was nowhere near making it over.

Woods, inevitably, had more eyes on him when he tried to hit back from the worst performance of his entire career.

His first shot did not bode well — a three wood that flew into the left-hand trees. But escaping with a par was a taste of things to come.

A poor approach to the long second did not cost him a shot either and nor did a shocking 190-yard three wood that popped up in the air off the seventh tee.

With the same club he produced a wonderful shot into the heart of the green on the par-five ninth — this time it carried 270 yards — and he two-putted for his first birdie in 19 competitive holes.

Another came on the 558-yard 11th thanks to a chip to six feet, but there was still the dangerous finish to come — including, of course, Owen’s nightmare hole.

Donald had four birdies in five holes around the turn and after bogeying the 15th hit a superb approach to six feet on the formidable 462-yard last and made the birdie putt.

Ian Poulter, partnering Woods, finished level par.

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