PGA Championship 2016

No birdies as Rory battles poor form

Rory McIlroy taking his approach shot on the 18th hole in the first round. He struggled on the greens at Baltusrol most of the time.
Rory McIlroy taking his approach shot on the 18th hole in the first round. He struggled on the greens at Baltusrol most of the time.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

On a course ideal for long hitters, he goes 4 over in opening round and wears a heavy look

SPRINGFIELD (New Jersey) • Rory McIlroy's golf is giving cause for concern - again.

A 74 in his opening round at the PGA Championship on Thursday was four over par and three strokes worse than Phil Mickelson, one of his playing partners, six more than Jason Day, the other, and nine behind the early leader, Jimmy Walker.

It was very striking that long-hitter McIlroy, normally a birdie machine, did not manage to score one.

After an improvement in his final round at the British Open at Royal Troon two weeks ago, there had been hopes he would sustain that good play in the fourth and final Major championship of the year. The world No. 4 did not at Baltusrol.

It is nothing to do with the Olympics that begin next weekend, as McIlroy will not take part, nor the Ryder Cup in two months' time, where he certainly will.

The row about his participation in the former is in the past and the role he will play in the latter is so far away as to be irrelevant.

The Northern Irishman is not playing the golf he is capable of, nothing like as good as he was two years ago.

The self-assured competitor of 2014, who bounced jauntily down fairways, head held high, has been replaced by a player who often wears an air of concern.

As he walked off the ninth green after his final hole on Thursday, he let out a long sigh. In all, he had four bogeys and it took him 35 putts to negotiate 18 holes. He missed from 10 feet or less on five holes.

Two years ago he was on a rising tide; now he is struggling on an ebbing one.

"It just wasn't my day," he said afterwards. "I was happy how I played tee to green for the most part. But on the greens, it was a different story. I'm struggling."

Gary McCord, a golf analyst, said on CBS television that he was "very surprised" by McIlroy's performance.

"This is a driver's golf course, long and straight. If you can hit it 300-plus yards and can't score there is something wrong," he said.

Another expert Dottie Pepper, the former woman professional, was another who expressed concern at the world No. 4's play.

McIlroy was not the only big name to struggle. Pre-tournament favourite Dustin Johnson (77) reached the turn at four over after three bogeys and a double bogey. There were a lot of putts left short, many more than in most Majors played in the United States.

McIlroy found this, too.

But, just as the Ulsterman seems uncomfortable on the greens, so he seems to be defensive off it.

"Look," he said, a touch of asperity in his voice. "It's one round of golf. I obviously want to play well and I was trying my hardest to make birdies so I know my game is there."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'No birdies as Rory battles poor form'. Print Edition | Subscribe