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McIlroy has no answers to slump in form as he shoots a horror 79 in first round of Players Championship



Rory McIlroy hacks out of the trees on the 10th hole at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday

Rory McIlroy hacks out of the trees on the 10th hole at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday

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Rory McIlroy hacks out of the trees on the 10th hole at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday

Rory McIlroy admits he's lost for answers to his alarming drop in form after suffering a horror start to the defence of his Players Championship title in Florida.

McIlroy, who dropped out of the world's top-10 for the first time since March 2018 last week, saw his struggles continue in a major way at TPC Sawgrass as he had a double-bogey and a quadruple-bogey on his way to a seven-over 79 in his opening round.

The Holywood man, who won this event in 2019 and is still the defending champion due to last year's event being cancelled due to Covid-19, finished 14 shots off leader and playing partner Sergio Garcia, who shot a seven-under 65 to hold a three-shot lead over Matthew Fitzpatrick and Corey Conners among the early starters on day one.

It was an ugly display from McIlroy, who not only double-bogeyed his opening hole, the 10th, after snap-hooking his tee shot into the trees, but also took an eight on the par-four 18th after finding the water twice.

McIlroy hooked his tee shot into the lake, then hooked an iron into the water as well before three-putting the green for the quadruple-bogey.

Although McIlroy steadied the ship slightly by playing his remaining holes in level-par, his title defence is already in tatters and, even more concerningly, the World No.11 doesn't know where the solutions are coming from.

"It was very hard, especially when you're trying to figure it out as you go along on course, right?" said McIlroy, who had four three-putts in his round.

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"You still know you're not really sure where the shots are coming from, and then it's sort of as I said earlier in the week, it's hard to at least to try to eliminate one side of the golf course, basically.

"The big number on 18 didn't help, and then doubling the first wasn't helpful either. I think it's hard to recover when you just haven't played good. I mean, even if you take that 18th hole out it still wasn't a very good day."

By comparison, Graeme McDowell had a relatively uneventful opening round in Florida, however he will be frustrated by his one-over 73.

The Rathmore man, who also started at the 10th, birdied the par-five 16th to move one-under at the turn but he dropped shots at the first and seventh on his inward nine to finish over par.

Meanwhile, on the European Tour, Cormac Sharvin is the best of the Irish after a one-under-par 70 in his opening round at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha to sit six shots off overnight leader David Law.

It wasn't such a good day for Clandeboye's Jonathan Caldwell, who carded a four-over 75 and will need a big round to make the cut at Education City Golf Club.

Elsewhere, leading Northern Irish women's amateur Olivia Mehaffey has been handed an invite to next week's Symetra Tour opener in Arizona.

The Royal County Down ace, who plays college golf at Arizona State, will tee it up at Longbow Golf Club at the Carlisle Arizona Women's Golf Classic, the first event on the second-tier Tour schedule.

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