Four-time Major winner penned £80million TaylorMade deal this week and plucked two late birdies
THE curse of the new clubs struck again as Rory McIlroy flopped in his first outing since singing a multi-million deal with TaylorMade.
His first round at the Players Championship sparked memories of his disastrous first event with Nike equipment four years ago, when he shot 75-75 to miss the cut in Abu Dhabi.
That £75million deal was heralded with a huge party and a fireworks show, and his £80million switch to TaylorMade this week helped parent club Adidas sell the club-makers for £330m a day later.
All that was needed next was for Mcilroy to turn it on with a set of clubs and new ball he announced as the finest he had ever laid hands on.
But a one over par 73 at Sawgrass was hardly convincing evidence that the switch is going to help him end his three year wait to add to his haul of four Majors.
And it would have been a lot worse if McIlroy had not plucked two birdies from nowhere in the final three holes, holing a monster putt at the last hole to make things look a lot better than they were.
This was McIlroy’s first outing since he got married three weeks ago, and maybe trying to come down maybe the emotional high of that experience affected his game.
There was also bound to be some rust after a five week lay-off since the Masters. But things looked promising as McIlory reached the run at level par, after cancelling out bogeys at the first and seventh with birdies at the two early par fives.
The world No 2 has always found the front nine at Sawgrass much tougher than the inward half.
In the last four years he has played the first nine in a combined nine over par – and the back nine in an amazing FORTY under, twenty shots better than anyone else in the field.
So as he stood on the front tee, there was an air of expectancy. But no-one really expected what came next.
McIlroy slumped to a double bogey at the 424 yards tenth, one of the easiest holes on the course, after tugging his tee shot into a fairway bunker and missing a tiddler on the green.
And after pulling a shot back with a birdie on the 12th, he ran up another double bogey when his tee shot at the 14th splashed down into the water that winds around 14 of the 18 holes at Sawgrass.
He also finished a clear second best in his battle with world No 1 Dustin Johnson, even though his playing partner has a shocking record in the Players’ Championship.
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Johnson has never managed a top 25 finish at Sawgrass, and his scoring average of 72.6 is his worst in any PGA Tour event.
But while McIlroy was struggling for consistency, Johnson showed signs of coming to terms with his bogey course. An eagle at the long 16th helped him to a highly satisfactory one under par 71.