RORY McIlroy’s troublesome swing was still looking like a work in progress yesterday in the early stages of the £5.8million WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami.
McIlroy has dominated the golfing headlines this year, firstly for signing a multi-million pound equipment deal with Nike and then missing the cut in his first event with that equipment in Abu Dhabi.
The world number one then lost to Shane Lowry in the first round of the Accenture Match Play, before things went from bad to worse as he quit the defence of his Honda Classic title last week after completing just eight holes of his second round.
McIlroy issued a full apology for his withdrawal yesterday, admitting the pain from a wisdom tooth and being in a “bad place mentally” was no excuse for walking off the course.
The 23-year-old spent all weekend working with coach Michael Bannon to iron out a flaw in his backswing, but the player admitted it was not a quick fix and he soon found trouble as he began his opening round on the back nine of the Blue Monster course at Doral.
McIlroy’s opening drive found a fairway bunker, his second ended in the rough and from there he could only find more sand short of the green on the 551-yard par five.
He did however splash out to two feet to save par, and also got up and down for par on the next after missing the green from the ideal spot on the right of the fairway.
Finding more sand on the 12th meant no birdie on the 603-yard par five, leaving McIlroy level par and three behind early leaders Keegan Bradley and Mike Hendry.
Playing partner Tiger Woods had birdied the 11th and 12th to reach two-under, while the final member of the group, England’s Luke Donald, had found water with his opening tee shot but recovered with a birdie on the next to be level par.
McIlroy and Woods both dropped shots at the 13th and 14th – McIlroy’s tee-shot on the par-three 13th being particularly wayward – but the Northern Irishman hit back with a birdie from nine feet at the next.
With Hendry dropping a shot, Bradley had been joined at the top of the leaderboard by compatriot Webb Simpson – both winners of major titles with belly putters – with Simpson picking up three shots in his first four holes.
Ryder Cup team-mates Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell were one shot off the pace on two-under, while another hero from Medinah, defending champion Justin Rose, was one-under after two holes.
Meanwhile, McIlroy has not ruled out adding another tournament to his schedule to avoid going into the US Masters with just a handful of competitive rounds under his belt. The Northern Irishman has played only four and a half rounds in 2013, getting into difficulty with his new equipment at each of the events he has started.
The world number one is an approximate 17-over par for the 80 holes he has completed this season and is currently scheduled to play just two more events before the first major of the year at Augusta National from 11-14 April.
Health permitting, he is at least guaranteed four rounds of golf this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship as there is no halfway cut, but the same guarantee is not on offer at the Houston Open, his other scheduled event.
Asked if he would play another tournament, McIlroy said: “I haven’t planned on it yet. I was waiting to see how I was going to do this week and then make a decision.
“If I want to play Tampa next week I have to enter by Friday and then there is Bay Hill after that, but right now I haven’t made a decision.
“I feel like I have made some progress over the last few days so the likelihood is that I probably won’t add an event, but it all depends on how I feel with my game and how I feel out there on the course.”
In China, England’s Sophie Walker, France’s Gwladys Nocera and Sweden’s Linda Wessberg led the way after the opening round of the World Ladies Championship in Hainan.
The trio carded five-under-par 67s on the Sandbelt Course, giving them a one-shot advantage over the chasing pack.
Five players make up that group, with world number four Inbee Park one of them.
England’s Holly Aitchison is one of six players a further shot back, although Scottish amateur Eilidh Briggs had a day to for-get as she signed for a nine-over 81.
“I think in rounds like today, you have to limit your mistakes and try not to have any three-putts and take your chances,” joint-leader Walker told the tournament’s official website.
“Today’s round was pretty impressive. If I can do that again then I’m sure I’ll be close, but I’ll need to take every round as it comes and try and eliminate the mistakes.”