• Open Championship, Round One

Disaster start leaves McIlroy's hopes in tatters

ESPN staff
July 18, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Rory McIlroy could not get going on day one at Muirfield © Getty Images
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The chances of an Open Championship victory for two prime British contenders, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, already appear to be remarkably slim after torrid opening rounds at Muirfield on Thursday.

On a day that saw some low scoring - former Masters champion Zach Johnson got into the clubhouse at five-under par after a round of 66 - neither McIlroy or Rose could find a rhythm, with rounds of 79 and 75 leaving the major-winning duo with work to do simply to make the halfway cut.

Other well-tipped players fared better in the calm, beautifully sunny conditions that blessed the Gullane links. McIlroy's playing partner Phil Mickelson got himself in the clubhouse at two-under, just a shot behind fellow Americans Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker.

Early pace-setter Miguel Angel Jimenez also shot 68, with 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson just two shots further back.

Ian Poulter, meanwhile, three-putted the last to finish the day one-over, having earlier reached three-under after a fine start. His was a score matched by the likes of Martin Kaymer, Jason Dufner and past champion Stewart Cink.

McIlroy endured the worst day of the top contenders, needing to hole a short bogey putt at the 18th simply to match the opening eight-over par score of Sir Nick Faldo - who had invoked the Northern Irishman's ire at the start of the week after questioning his focus.

In truth, McIlroy never appeared in control of his game - with a couple of wayward approach shots and a number of uncharacteristically mishit chips indicating he is far from comfortable with his current technique.

The two-time major champion was two-over after five holes but appeared to be scrambling back in the right direction after birdieing the seventh - but he missed a makeable effort at the par-five ninth that would have returned him to even, and shots seemed to slip away with regularity after that.

A duffed chip at the 12th delivered one double-bogey and then a long putt on the 15th that meandered on into a bunker ended up contributing another, with a bogey-bogey finish meaning the world No. 2 only just avoided shooting 80.

"I had a chance on nine to get it back to even par and didn't quite make that, and then let a few shots get away from me," a clearly-downcast McIlroy noted. "I made a few silly mental errors that cost me.

"I missed the ball in the wrong places, which you can't do here. Just stupid mental errors I really shouldn't be making."

Rose similarly struggled, but picked up a crucial shot at the close of his round to keep himself in some form of contention. The US Open champion went out in 38 and then double-bogeyed the 15th to slip to five-over, but a birdie at the 17th improved his outlook considerably.

At the top end of the leaderboard, Rafael Cabrera-Bello is Johnson's nearest challenger at four-under. A number of players made fast starts on the slightly easier outward nine at Muirfield, before being drawn back to the field slightly as the tougher inward sign took its pound of flesh.

Jason Day, for example, will wonder how he finished two-over, having reached two-under with a birdie at the 13th.

Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Adam Scott were all among the afternoon starters.

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