PONTE VEDRA BEACH — There were shades of Royal Portrush. And not in a good way.
Rory McIlroy last lifted the Players Championship trophy here in 2019, so he is technically the defending champion. And his title defense couldn’t be going much worse.
McIlroy shot seven-over 43 on his opening nine holes at TPC Sawgrass, the ugly result of double-bogeying his first hole of the day (No. 10) and making a quadruple bogey on 18.
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.
He’ll need a similar bounce-back at TPC Sawgrass to see the weekend.