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Players 2021: Rory McIlroy's 18th hole collapse summed up his nightmare Day 1 at TPC Sawgrass

March 11, 2021

Kevin C. Cox

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — There were shades of Royal Portrush. And if you're familiar with his start at the 2019 Open Championship, that's not a good thing. 

Rory McIlroy last lifted the Players Championship trophy here in 2019, so he is technically the defending champion. And his title defense couldn't have started much worse.

McIlroy's opening-nine 43 at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday was the ugly result of double-bogeying his first hole of the day (No. 10) and making a quadruple bogey on 18. He'd go on to shoot an ugly first-round 7-over 79.

The four-time major champion hasn’t been right since the tour restarted after the COVID-19 hiatus, which started here with the cancellation of the Players Championship after one round. Rory has struggled to combat a violent pull-hook left miss recently. It happened twice last week at Bay Hill, when he hooked two into the water on No. 6 on Sunday. It happened again, twice, on 18 at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday. He double-crossed his tee ball into the drink, then took a drop, then sent his approach into the drink. Another drop. He then found the green and proceeded to three-putt from 60 feet.

It wasn't his only left miss of the day. On his opening tee shot, he hooked one deep into woods left of the 10th fairway. He hit a provisional off the tee but ended up finding his first, though he had to take an unplayable. He pitched out and failed to get up and down, resulting in a double.

McIlroy had his share of right misses, too, as evidenced by some of the graphics from his round:

"You're trying to figure it out, but you still know you're not really sure where the shots are coming from," McIlroy told the media after the round. And then it's sort of, as I said earlier in the week, it's hard to at least to try to eliminate one side of the golf course, basically."

It wasn't just the ball-striking, though for the Northern Irishman. McIlroy had 34 putts on Thursday, and he finished his round losing 3.895 strokes/putting.

It brought to mind McIlroy’s start at the 2019 British Open, played in his home country of Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush. McIlroy hit his first tee shot out of bounds that day and made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his opening hole en route to a 79. He fought back admirably on Friday with a 65 but missed the cut by one.

He’ll need a similar bounce-back at TPC Sawgrass to see the weekend.