Irish Open: Rory McIlroy makes nightmare start at County Down
|Dubai Duty Free Irish Open first round leaders|
|-4 P Harrington (Ire), M Kieffer (Ger); -3 S Hansen (Den); -2 D Willett (Eng), S Kjeldsen (Den), E Grillo (Arg); -1 L Donald (Eng), M Ford (Eng), R Karlberg (Swe), C Wood (Eng), A Levy (Fra), T Fisher Jnr (SA), A Hansen (Den) Selected others: Par R Fowler (USA), E Els (SA); +4 S Garcia (Spa); +9 R McIlroy (NI)|
Rory McIlroy faces an uphill battle to make the cut at the Irish Open after carding a nightmare nine-over-par 80 in the first round at Royal County Down.
McIlroy, 26, posted five bogeys in his first nine holes and dropped a further four shots in his second nine.
The world number one has missed the cut at the last two Irish Open tournaments.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington, the 2007 winner, shares the lead with Maximilian Kieffer of Germany on four under par with Soren Hansen one shot behind.
England's Danny Willett, Argentinian Emiliano Grillo and Dane Soren Kjeldsen are two off the pace after carding rounds of 69 at the Newcastle links course.
English trio Luke Donald, Matt Ford and Chris Wood are among seven players nicely placed on one under.
Starting at the 10th, world number one McIlroy, who pledged to donate his prize money this week to his charitable foundation, the official tournament host, strayed occasionally off the tee, was repeatedly erratic with his iron play and struggled with the putter throughout.
The Northern Irishman has won two of his last four tournaments, the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and Wells Fargo tournament at Quail Hollow, but missed the cut at last week's PGA Championship at Wentworth.
|The Irish Open has been staged at Royal County Down on three occasions, most recently back in 1939.||Royal County Down hosted the Senior British Open on three consecutive years, from 2000 to 2002.|
|Only one player from Northern Ireland has ever won the Irish Open - Fred Daly at Portmarnock in 1946.||Rickie Fowler was a member of the United States team which won the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down. Rory McIlroy was part of the European team.|
"I was caught between trying to play two ways. My poor iron play led to missed greens and I left myself a lot of eight to 12 foot putts for par, pretty much all of which I missed," said McIlroy after his round.
McIlroy's playing partner, American world number nine Rickie Fowler, is in contention near the top of the leaderboard on level par, but the third member of the illustrious group, Germany's Martin Kaymer, has a lot of ground to make up on eight over.
Fowler was making his first appearance since securing the second PGA Tour win of his career in The Players Championship earlier this month.
Graeme McDowell was two under after 15 holes but the former US Open winner bogeyed the final three holes of his round, the seventh, eighth and ninth, to drop back to one over.
The third of the host nation's recent major winners, European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, lies well back on four over, but his compatriot Michael Hoey fared better on level par.
Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez is one over, while Lee Westwood registered a three-over-74 in the windy conditions in front of a sell-out 20,000 crowd at the seaside links.
Ernie Els, playing in the Irish Open for the first time since 1998, had a level-par round, but 1999 tournament winner Sergio Garcia is down the pack on four over.
A first prize of £294,000 is on offer for the winner on Sunday.