Rory's ugly finish spoils promising round as G-Mac plays it steady
A final hole collapse in the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida saw Rory McIlroy card an opening two-over par 72.
Consistency had been the name of the game for the former champion, who amazingly carded 10 consecutive pars from the eighth hole to the 17th to seemingly begin the tournament in solid fashion.
However, a double bogey seven on the closing par-five dropped him into the blue figures and leaves a sour note.
Ulsterman McIlroy now sits six shots off the early pace, set by Sweden's Alex Noren and American Webb Simpson.
His round did show early signs of optimism, mirroring his bullish talk heading into a tournament he's won in the past.
That 2012 triumph still ranks as one of McIlroy's favourite victories, and when he notched back-to-back birdies on the par-five third and par-four fourth there was belief he could be finding form again.
Those thoughts came to a shuddering halt two holes later. A failed up-and-down from the back of the sixth green yielded a bogey, while a bizarrely wayward tee shot meant the same outcome on the par-three seventh.
Then came what can only be described as par golf, because that's all it was.
Bar up-and-downs on the 12th and 16th, the latter of which required an excellent lengthy pitch shot from the reeds short of the green to bail him out of trouble, McIlroy was simply finding greens in regulation and two-putting his way home.
That is until the 18th. Whether it was a surge of adrenaline or a miscalculation is up for debate, but McIlroy went for the green in two from just shy of 270 yards and ended up in the drink.
Corrections made, his second effort from around 130 yards closer sailed over the back of the green. This time the former World No.1 wouldn't make the up-and-down, and the dreaded seven went on the final slot on the scorecard.
McIlroy spoke before the event about not needing a win before heading to Augusta National in April.
Right now he may take a win out of the equation - Masters contention will require much better approach play and a killer instinct with the putter, neither of which he exhibited in any excess.
Things were slightly better for fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, who opened with a resolute even-par 70, continuing his recent upturn in form after being in contention last week at Riviera.
The 38-year old battled back from two-over twice in his round to finish where he started, with birdies on the eighth and ninth - his 17th and 18th - ensuring he wasn't on the wrong side of the course come the end of the day.
Offaly's Shane Lowry is a shot further behind on one-over, with Dubliner Padraig Harrington and sponsor's invite Seamus Power both limping home to ugly scores around the treacherous course.
Noren and Simpson were the stars of the day, and but for a frustrating six on the final hole the Swede would have been flawless for his round and held possession of the solo lead.
Instead he shares top spot with 2012 US Open champion Simpson, who was also a hole away from being perfect only to slip up on the tricky par-four 16th.
Tiger Woods, on what now can safely be called his permanent comeback, joined G-Mac on level par, while Rickie Fowler is on one-over and Sergio Garcia is alongside McIlroy at two-over.
Meanwhile, Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort in Co Donegal will play host to the €40,000 qualifier for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The 36-hole tournament, administered by the PGA in Ireland, will be played on the Sandy Hills Links. Four starting places in the Irish Open at Ballyliffin will be at stake.
All PGA in Ireland members and registered assistants will be eligible to compete in the event. Six places in the field are open to amateur players nominated by the Golfing Union of Ireland. A further 12 spots will be filled by professional golfers selected by the European Tour.
PGA in Ireland secretary Michael McCumiskey said: "This is a new era for Irish golf. Through the auspices of Dubai Duty Free and the European Tour a qualifying round for the Irish Open is being staged for the first time in a long number of years.
"It will present a welcome opportunity for established and aspiring professionals plus a number of Ireland's top amateurs."