Chad Ramey set the clubhouse goal with the opening 64th round, with Collin Morikawa repelling a shot; Rory McIlroy 12 shots from the lead after a 4-over-76; Follow day two live on Sky Sports Golf from 11:30am
From Ali Stafford at TPC Sawgrass
19:54, United Kingdom, Thursday 09 March 2023
Rory McIlroy's bid for a second win at The Players and a return to world No. 1 has turned into a fight for the cut after a dismal start at TPC Sawgrass.
McIlroy played alongside Jon Rahm and Scottie scheffler, the only two players above him in the world rankings, where he endured an erratic day without a tee and a cold putter as he stumbled to a four-over-76.
The four-time major champion mixed two birdies with four bogeys and a double-bogey on a frustrating opening day at the PGA Tour's flagship event, leaving him 12 shots behind early clubhouse leader Chad Ramey.
Scheffler was the pick of the morning marquee group as he shagged three of his last four holes to card a four-under 68 while world No. 1 Rahm, who was targeting a sixth win in 11 worldwide starts, struggled on the greens when he chose a one under 71.
Mixed day for the world's leading trio
McIlroy got off to a nightmare start to the tournament, flipping a chip out of the rough on the par-4 on the par-4 and then failing to bounce off the sand, resulting in a double-bogey six despite making a two-putt birdie made the next par 5.
The 2019 champion missed a birdie chance from 8 feet on the 12th and followed the pars over his next two holes, finding the trees on his way to a bogey on the 15th tee as his playmates both went with six straight pars opened.
Rahm made two putts from 12ft to take advantage of the par-5 16th, where McIlroy made three putts for par after a stunning recovery from the trees, with the Spaniard then rolling in from 10ft on the 18th to close the turn in two reach below.
Scheffler moved alongside Rahm by starting his back nine with consecutive birdies, while McIlroy continued to slide down the leaderboard when another leaked shot to the right on the first set set up another bogey.
McIlroy reversed a dropped shot on the third by flicking a wedge at point-blank range on the next, where Rahm failed to convert his birdie look from six feet, while Scheffler responded to a bogey on the fifth with a shot on the next.
Scheffler holed a yardie from the rim on the seventh and two putts from 50 feet to the last yardie, putting him within the lead to four, while Rahm carded a bogey on the penultimate hole and McIlroy marked an unforgettable day by failing to par on the ninth par 5.
Driver disappointment for McIlroy
McIlroy also struggled from the tee during last month's Genesis Invitational and during the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, with the former world No. 1 admitting it takes time to adjust to a new driver in the bag.
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“I wish I could use my driver from last year, but I can't, just because – you use a driver for so long and it starts to get a little bit – basically it just wouldn't pass the test,” said McIlroy explained to reporters.
“These driver heads are so finicky it's hard to get exactly the same ones. I'm obviously trying my best to get something that's as close to what I had last weeks.
“This one is as close as it has ever been. Yes, obviously there is also a part of it that is the user. There are also quite a few user errors.
“They tested drivers at Riviera [last month], but I just didn't want to take the risk. I just felt uncomfortable knowing that it doesn't look good on me, it doesn't look good on TaylorMade.”
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