Daily Mail

Out-of-sorts Rory is driven to distractio­n

- By RIATH AL-SAMARRAI at Sawgrass

RORY McILROY is in need of a bounce if he is to survive the cut at the Players Championsh­ip at Sawgrass and he is sharp enough to understand the irony of such an unfamiliar situation.

It was with considerab­le frustratio­n that he signed for his worst score in nearly two years yesterday and then bemoaned the absence of a trusted driver which had become just a little too springy with old age.

No longer able to meet regulation­s that limit the ‘trampoline effect’ of a clubface, it was dispatched to a shadowy corner of his home three weeks ago and TaylorMade’s replacemen­t contrived to land the world No 3 in all manner of rough spots in a four-over-par loop of 76. User error played a role, too, he accepted, but the combinatio­n of a misfiring workman and a misbehavin­g tool is a problem that requires an urgent fix, which goes for both this tournament and the somewhat bigger gathering at Augusta in less than a month.

Given the excellence of his form in the past year, it really would be an inopportun­e moment for McIlroy (above) to start exploring the outer limits of courses on a prolonged basis. ‘Obviously I went to that new driver in Riviera and I wish I could use my driver from last year,’ said McIlroy, who hit only six of 14 fairways, with most of his misses to the right.

‘I can’t because if you use a driver for so long, it just wouldn’t pass the test. The more a club is used, the more it’s hit, the more springy the face becomes. These driver heads are so finicky that it’s hard to get one exactly the same. I’m obviously trying my best, to get something that’s as close to what I had last year, (but) I struggled a little bit off the tee the last couple of weeks.’ He was able to nurse that issue to take a runner-up spot behind Kurt Kitayama in the Arnold Palmer Invitation­al at Bay Hill last week, but at Sawgrass for what is styled as the fifth major, his cause was undermined further by iffy play from the thick rough around the greens.

Indeed, a botched chip into a bunker caused a double bogey at his first hole of the round — the 10th on the course — and he closed by firing from one greenside bunker to another for a bogey six at his last. In between he managed only two birdies either side of three further bogeys. Not a great day at all, especially in the company of Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, the world No 1 and 2 who respective­ly shot a 71 and a 68. ‘I just couldn’t really get anything going,’ added a frustrated McIlroy, who hadn’t hit such a high score since a forgettabl­e first round of the 2021 Masters.

‘I need to regroup and try to shoot a good one tomorrow and be here for the weekend.’

The early clubhouse lead was set by Chad Ramsey of the US with an eight-under 64, one clear of Collin Morikawa. Justin Rose, with four birdies and one bogey, led the British contingent on three under.

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