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Rory McIlroy's Masters prep suffers another blow despite 'totally ready' quote


By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy's Masters preparations suffered another blow as he struggled to an opening 74 on his maiden appearance in the Valspar Championship.

The Ulsterman's only birdie came courtesy of holing a bunker shot on the seventh, his 16th hole of the day, while two bogeys and a clumsy double-bogey seven on the fifth left him three over par.

The 28-year-old began the season in superb form with a tie for third in Abu Dhabi and a runners-up finish in Dubai, but missed the cut on his first PGA Tour start at Pebble Beach and followed that with a tie for 20th in the Genesis Open and 59th in the Honda Classic.

McIlroy said pre-tournament that he was "totally ready" for the Masters and felt he would have a good chance of the victory he needs to complete the career Grand Slam if the year's first Major got under way this week.

But his performance yesterday told a somewhat different story after starting from the 10th with 10 straight pars before failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the second.

Worse was to come on the fifth after a wayward drive into the trees forced McIlroy to pitch out sideways, a mistake he compounded by taking four to get down from short of the green.

And although the birdie on the seventh repaired some of the damage, McIlroy dropped another shot on his final hole to finish three over par, seven shots off the clubhouse lead set by Corey Connors of Canada.

In the feature group of the afternoon starters, Tiger Woods continued his comeback with a one-under-par 70, while Jordan Spieth limped round in 76 (+5).

Meanwhile, Golf Digest have named their top 100 golf courses in Ireland for 2018 with Royal County Down and Royal Portrush's Dunluce Links holding onto their places as the top two.

In total, there are 21 Ulster courses in this year's top 100.

Portstewart's Strand Course is the next Ulster course to feature, holding its place in 15th. Ballyliffin's Old Course stays 18th while Donegal GC's Murvagh Links is still 21st with Portsalon in 22nd.

Rosapenna's Sandyhills is down one to 25th while Lough Erne is down four to 31st. Rosapenna's Old Tom Morris Course is up two to 33rd while Concra Wood remains 34th. Slieve Russell is back up one to 38th while Castlerock and Malone come in 42nd and 43rd respectively.

Belvoir is 49th and Royal Portrush's Valley Course sneaks into the top half. Royal Belfast is at 56th while Clandeboye comes in 63rd and Galgorm Castle at 67th. Ardglass is at 79th and Roe Park enters the top 100 on the mark.

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