Rory McIlroy came up with an ambitious, and rather expensive, solution to his travel problems after a poor opening round left him battling to avoid another early exit from the Irish Open – in which Sheffield teenager Matt Fitzpatrick, the leading amateur in last week’s US Open, carded a one-over 72 in his first tournament round as a professional,
McIlroy has an underwhelming record in his national championship, recording two top-10 finishes in seven appearances and missing the cut last year along with fellow major champions Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
The 25-year-old had the added incentives of being able to move top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and getting back inside the world’s top five with a good performance this week, but could only card a three-over-par 74 in perfect conditions at Fota Island.
McIlroy’s clubs only arrived on Wednesday morning after being lost in transit from last week’s US Open, and although the two-time major winner still managed an approximate 62 in the pre-tournament pro-am, it was hardly the ideal preparation.
“I’m jet-lagged wherever I go because I’m travelling so much, so it’s not like that’s an excuse for me,” said McIlroy, who was joint 23rd at Pinehurst on six over par. “But not being able to do much on Monday and Tuesday was really frustrating.
“I would have liked to have hit some balls and done some practice those couple days to prepare. But sometimes that’s just the way it goes and I just need to play better the next few years and get my own plane so that doesn’t happen.”
McIlroy was joint 123rd in the 156-man field and 10 shots adrift of leader Mikko Ilonen, the world No 63 firing eight birdies and one bogey to establish a new course record of 64.
Ilonen, who won the British Amateur title in 2000 at next month’s Open venue Hoylake, is looking to climb into the world’s top 50 for the first time and boosted his chances with five birdies in his last seven holes.
Hull’s Richard Finch shot an opening 68, while Malton’s Simon Dyson was two shots further back with a 70.