The Players: Rory McIlroy puts two balls in the water at 18 and slumps to opening-round 79
Defending champion Rory McIlroy was scrambling hard just to make the halfway cut at The Players Championship after starting with a double-bogey and then running up an eight at the 18th to crash to seven over par; watch live on Sky Sports The Players
By Keith Jackson and Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 12/03/21 10:03am
Rory McIlroy endured a horror start to the defence of his Players Championship title as he slumped to an opening-round 79 at TPC Sawgrass.
The 2019 champion was looking forward to a "second bite at the cherry" after his initial title defence was curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the tournament to be cancelled following the first round last year, but his challenge was in tatters after a terrible start.
McIlroy set the tone when he yanked his opening tee shot into the trees at the 10th, a mistake which led to a double-bogey six, and he dropped another shot at the 13th before worse was to follow at the daunting 18th.
The lean to the right after he swatted his drive away was a warning sign that he had tugged it left, and his ball splashed in the lake a couple of yards left of the fairway. He then compounded the error when he took a drop at the front of the tee and pulled out a long-iron to play for position in an attempt to limit the damage, but he pulled that ball into the lake as well.
After playing-partner Webb Simpson also donated two balls to the water, McIlroy's fifth shot found the front of the green - 60 feet short of the flag - from where he three-putted after leaving his first attempt seven feet shy of the target.
The resulting quadruple-bogey took McIlroy to the turn in 43 - seven over par - and equalled the worst nine-hole total of his PGA Tour career, with the eight also tying his highest score on one hole in his professional career.
"You're trying to figure it out but you still know you're not really sure where the shots are coming from," McIlroy said. "It's sort of as I said earlier in the week, it's hard to at least to try to eliminate one side of the golf course, basically.
"Obviously the big number on 18 didn't help and then doubling the 1st wasn't helpful either. I just think just it's hard to recover when you just haven't played good. Regardless if you take that 18th hole out, it still wasn't a very good day."
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McIlroy briefly started a fightback by following a 10-foot birdie at the first by taking advantage of the par-five next, only to fail to save par from the sand at the third and make a three-putt bogey from 25 feet at the par-four fourth.
The four-time major champion rolled in a 12-foot birdie at the fifth but then rounded off a forgettable day with a three-putt bogey at the ninth - his final hole - leaving him some 14 strokes behind early leader Sergio Garcia.
Watch the videos above to see McIlroy's horrendous start at TPC Sawgrass! Live coverage continues on our dedicated channel - Sky Sports The Players.
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