• Open Championship, Day One

'Brain-dead' McIlroy's mental struggle

July 19, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »

Rory McIlroy's year of frustration continued on Thursday during the first round of the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he shot an 8-over-par 79.

The No. 2-ranked player in the world hasn't won since November and has a lot of ground to make up at the year's third major championship if he is to even make the cut. He played the back nine in seven-over par with two double-bogeys to finish with his worst opening round at a major tournament.

"It's strange, I mean, I wish I could stand up here and tell you guys what's wrong or what I need to do to make it right, because I feel like I've got the shots," McIlroy said. "It's just a matter of going through the right process to hit them, and that's something that I obviously haven't been doing recently.

"I don't know what you can do. You've just got to try and play your way out of it. But it's nothing to do with technique. It's all mental out there. And then I just need to concentrate, obviously. But sometimes I feel like I'm walking around out there and I'm unconscious. I just need to try to think more. I'm trying to focus and trying to concentrate. I can't really fathom it at the minute, and it's hard to stand up here and tell you guys what's really wrong."

McIlroy offered up two examples that both led to double-bogeys. He missed the 12th green on the short side to the left, then left a chip shot short that rolled back down a bank. Then, he putted a ball off the 15th green and into a bunker. He couldn't remember ever doing that.

"That's just thoughtless," he said. "It's just so brain-dead. Seriously, I feel like I've been walking around out there like that for the last couple of months. I'm trying to get out of it. I just don't quite know why."

It is the third time in his Open career that he has shot 79 and continued a streak of lacklustre play this year in which he has struggled to regain his form of 2012, when he was player of the year on both the PGA and European tours, won the money title on both circuits and captured the PGA Championship.

Rory McIlroy found a lot of trouble at Muirfield © Getty Images
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This year, McIlroy has four top-10s on the PGA Tour, including a runner-up finish at the Texas Open. But he has missed a cut three times on the European Tour, including three weeks ago at the Irish Open. And he wasn't a factor at either the Masters or US Open, finishing tied for 25th and tied for 41st. McIlroy is now a combined 24-over par in majors this year.

"Actually, I didn't hit that many bad shots," he said. "I had a lot of good shots and made a couple of 2s at the par-3s. It's just, yeah, I mean, I feel like I made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and then shooting a round like this, is obviously not what you want. And you've got to go back to the drawing board and think about what you need to do differently or what you need to do better to improve."

It didn't help that McIlroy hit just five fairways and needed 34 putts in his round. And it makes things worse that he found a few places from where it was tough to make a score.

"We've all been there where you make a bogey, and you want to try and get that birdie back," said Phil Mickelson, who played the first round with McIlroy and shot 2-under-par 69. "And sometimes in trying to get it back, you put it in a spot that you make another bogey. I've been there a number of times. It's happened to me a bunch throughout my career, especially in major championships. And he had a couple of shots that had a chance to get close to the hole, and they ended up in a really bad spot."

When told McIlroy's score later, Nick Faldo --whom McIlroy had taken issue with on Wednesday for comments about how hard the Northern Irishman works - said: "Oh my goodness." Faldo, a three-time Open champion who was playing for the first time since the 2010 Open at St. Andrews, also shot 79.

McIlroy wondered about visiting with a sports psychologist and seemed perplexed by his inability to get his mind into the task.

"I just can't put it all together mentally out there," he said.

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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