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Rory McIlroy’s woes continue as he fails to pick up the pieces

 

By Robert Jones

Rory McIlroy struggled to a three-over-par opening round of 73 at the Northern Trust Open in New York yesterday.

The 28-year-old, who decided to continue his bid for the overall FedEx Cup title despite a persistent rib injury, carded six bogeys and three birdies at Glen Oaks Club.

It left the four-time Major winner well behind early pacesetter Russell Henley, who took the clubhouse lead after an opening six-under round of 64.

FedExCup points leader Hideki Matsuyama also struggled as he finished his first round one stroke worse than McIlroy on four over.

McIlroy carded a bogey five on the first hole before returning to par with a birdie on the second. He then repeated the pattern with bogeys on the fifth and seventh and birdies on the sixth and eight.

However, three more bogeys on the back nine — on the 10th, 13th and 17th holes — left him three over for the day.

McIlroy finished in a tie for 22nd in the US PGA Championship earlier this month which completed a third successive year without a Major title, and the former World No.1 later said he was in two minds about competing again in 2017.

But after seeking the advice of sports scientist Steve McGregor in Northern Ireland, McIlroy was told he could not make the injury any worse and will try to win the overall FedEx Cup title — and $10million (£7.8million) bonus — for the second year in succession.

Henley, on the other hand, had a fantastic round, dropping just two shots on his way to the overnight lead on six-under.

Most notable was his ability to bounce back from those dropped shots, picking up shots at the 5th and 12th after bogeying the 4th and 11th.

“I don’t know what the key is, or the secret,” Henley laughed. “I just tried to hit the fairway, make sure I hit the green when I was in the fairway, and the greens are great and I rolled in a couple of putts.”

Three shots back, in a tie for fifth at this early stage, is Harold Varner III who is in this week’s event having finished in the top-10 last week to secure his place in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings.

The American carded a tidy round of 67 to be in the clubhouse at three-under par with just one bogey on the scorecard.

“Kept my job. Just want to capitalize on it,” said Varner, who also secured his tour card for next season by reaching the play-offs.

“Just can’t overthink it. Just need to play golf. Like I was saying earlier, the hard work is already over.”

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson is fighting on another front — to try and prove to US Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker that he’s worth a captain’s pick for the upcoming contest in New Jersey.

Mickelson hasn’t missed selection for either a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup team since 1994, and is hoping a good finish this week could sway Stricker’s mind.

However, he will have to improve drastically in the final three rounds after he laboured to a two-over par 72.

Mickelson did birdie his final two holes at Glen Oaks to give him some confidence going into today’s second round, but he knows he’ll have to show more if he wants to be in the team at Liberty National next month.

“I would love to be on that team, but I’ve got to bring something to the table,” Mickelson said.

“And so, if I can play well this week and next week and show that I’m playing as well as I know I’m playing … but the only thing that matters is the score.

“So I’ve got to go shoot scores. If I can do that and add something to the team, I would love to be on it.”

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