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How Rory McIlroy struggled to find rhythm in Memorial opening round

 

By Adam McKendry

What a difference a week makes.

While it wasn't his worst stuff, admittedly, the stark contrast between the title-chasing Rory McIlroy of last week and what we saw in the first round of the Memorial last night was like night and day.

Blame it on the travel from England to the States or the different conditions he faced, but this was not the same McIlroy we saw taking dead aim at pins at Wentworth.

Instead, he limped home to a two-over-par round of 74, already nine shots adrift of the early leaders and a long way off that marvellous Friday round in Surrey a week ago.

His timid approach to the start of his round was perhaps best summed up by his five straight pars to start at Muirfield Village.

A birdie at the sixth following a masterful second shot into 4ft offered hope that perhaps the round was about to spring into life - after all, the early leaders were proving that there were low scores to be had.

But it never materialised into anything more than false promise. What looked to be a good bunker save at the par-three eighth quickly turned into a horror show as another 4ft putt this time slid by and the momentum with it.

The ninth did offer some respite as a bunker save somewhat spared the blushes of the previous hole, but a six-footer missed on the 10th for birdie had the World No.6 exasperated.

Consistency has been something of a buzzword for McIlroy, and rather aptly it was mentioned by Jack Nicklaus on Wednesday when he was asked about the Ulsterman.

Although perhaps it is not inconsistency that is the problem. Perhaps it's the consistency with which he battles his own putter that is key.

Two up-and-downs, one a sand save at the 12th, kept the par streak alive before another gained shot at the 13th after a delightful approach.

Steady golf was keeping McIlroy's head above water. Unfortunately his tee shot on the 14th didn't. While the drop was generous and the recovery shot a good one into the centre of the green, the flat iron yet again contrived to let him down.

The three-footer for bogey stayed above ground. McIlroy dropped over par with a double.

And the treacherous 18th claimed McIlroy as a victim. His drive was wayward, again meeting a watery grave and, although his third to the green was good, the putt wouldn't fall for par.

On the face of it, it's not the worst round McIlroy will ever play, and his short game work was on song. But, on a day where low scores were within reach, this was not what the Ulsterman was looking for at all.

That he needed the short game to get himself out of trouble so often, and that the putter yet again proved his Achilles heel, suggests something has fallen out of sync.

He'll have to chase a low round and go under par today to make the weekend at a tournament held in such high esteem on the PGA Tour.

Easier said than done - this course just loves to eat up those who chase a bit too much.

It's an unlikely trio leading the way in Ohio, with Mexico's Abraham Ancer and Chile's Joaquin Niemann - who only recently turned professional - joined by Japan's Hideki Matsuyama at seven-under.

Shane Lowry is at one-over-par following his opening round at Muirfield Village, while Tiger Woods roared back from a three-over-par front nine to finish at level-par for his opening round.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell is three shots off the lead at the Italian Open after an excellent five-under-par opening round at Gardagolf Country Club.

The Rathmore man is right in the mix as he goes in search of valuable Ryder Cup points, with Richard Sterne, Robert Rock and Laurie Canter leading the way.

Ireland's Paul Dunne is at two-under-par after an opening round of 69.

On the Challenge Tour, Cormac Sharvin leads the Ulster challenge on two-under-par at the Swiss Challenge.

Sharvin, who is joined by Ireland's Stuart Grehan at two-under, is six off the lead held by Germany's Marcel Schneider after a rain-affected first day in Lucerne.

Of the other Irish contenders, Gary Hurley is at one-under, the pair of Jack Hume and Ruaidhri Magee are both level-par, while Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey is on one-over.

Belfast Telegraph

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