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Rory McIlroy tackles tough greens but Graeme McDowell suffers nightmare finish to first round at Memorial Tournament

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Rory McIlroy is in contention after round one at the Memorial Tournament.

Rory McIlroy is in contention after round one at the Memorial Tournament.

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Rory McIlroy is in contention after round one at the Memorial Tournament.

Rory McIlroy likened the well-used greens at Muirfield Village to Wimbledon tennis courts after carding a pleasing two under par 70 in his opening round at the Memorial Tournament.

The world number one ended the day four shots behind leader Tony Finau on Jack Nicklaus' course.

It's the second PGA Tour event in a row hosted at the venue but this week features firmer, faster greens that proved a tricky test on day one, with Brendan Steele likening the putting surfaces to the infamously-sloping Augusta greens at the Masters.

For McIlroy, it was another sporting major that sprung to mind.

"I was thinking it's sort of like the Grand Slams in tennis," he said.

"It's the two weeks of play, but they're usually there before that, so they're there for almost three weeks, so that's sort of probably what it feels like. Especially like Wimbledon, the courts deteriorate and they get firmer and they get crustier, so it's sort of a little bit like that."

McIlroy dropped shots at the fourth and the ninth, paying the price for wayward tee shots but still made the turn at level par thanks to a back-to-back birdies at the sixth and seventh, the second a two-putt birdie after an impressive 270 yard wood onto the green.

A fluffed chip cost McIlroy another birdie at the par five 11th but he made amends with an impressive putt to get under par just two holes later.

He saved the best birdie for last with a stunning up and down at the par five 15th. Another wayward tee-shot led to a perhaps ill-advised attempt to go for the green with a wood while the ball was on a slope in the rough.

That left McIlroy short-sided left of the green with a bunker between him and flag and just a few yards of a downhill green to work with. The world number one, though, produced his shot of the day with an inch-perfect flop shot, cushioned in the rough, for a tap-in birdie to reach two under par.

Graeme McDowell, however, endured a nightmare three hole stretch on the back nine as he carded a seven over par 79.

He had begun his round brightly, one under par through eight holes but a double bogey at the ninth was just a taster of things to come on the back nine.

The real damage was done in a crushing three hole spell in which McDowell was seven over par.

It began with a double bogey on the par four 14th, a three putt adding to a wayward second shot.

It went from bad to worse at the next, McDowell forced to chip out after a pushed drive on the par five 15th, which ultimately ended in another three-putt and a triple bogey eight.

If he wanted the Muirfield Village ground to swallow him up, that feeling will only have got stronger when two fluffed chips at the difficult par three 16th led to another double bogey.

There were, at least, birdies at both the 12th and 17th to counteract at least one of the doubles but finding the water off the 18th tee led to a closing bogey to leave the Portrush man in a tie for 121st.

Open champion Shane Lowry suffered a disappointing end to his day with bogeys at 16 and 17 to leave him on one over par.

Playing alongside McIlroy, Tiger Woods birdied the last to get in at one under at the end of an eventful round that featured four birdies and three bogeys.

The Masters champion is playing in his first event without supporters.

"I definitely didn't have any issue with energy and not having the fans' reactions out there," he said. "I still felt the same eagerness, edginess, nerviness starting out, and it was good. It was a good feel. I haven't felt this in a while.

"I was very pleased the way I drove it, my feel for my irons. I just didn't quite hit the putts hard enough. Most of my putts were dying, didn't quite have enough oomph to it."

Belfast Telegraph