Rory McIlroy struggles in opening round of Players Championship

Rory McIlroy made a dismal start at the Players Championship as he fell to four over par in his opening round at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.

The Northern Irishman had arrived at the PGA Tour’s flagship event seeking a return to the world number one spot, but little went right for him on day one after beginning with a double bogey.

Playing the back nine first, he regained a stroke with a birdie at the 11th but further bogeys on the 15th, first and third left him well behind the early leaders Collin Morikawa and Chad Ramey on six under.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy could not find his groove in round one (Eric Gray/AP)

McIlroy did produce some magic to set up an eagle chance with a fine shot from under the trees wide of the 16th fairway, but he then three-putted to squander the opportunity.

McIlroy was playing in a high-profile three-ball along with Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, all of whom have held the top spot in the world rankings this year.

There was not much early spark from the current holder of the title, Rahm, or Scheffler either but both were at a steady two under par with six holes to play.

The early drama was provided by American Hayden Buckley, who landed a hole in one on the course’s famous 17th, the island hole.

He followed up with successive birdies on the 18th and first to briefly move to five under par but he later fell away and signed for a one-over 73 after double bogeys on the sixth and eighth.

Australian Min Woo Lee put himself among the early front-runners after six birdies in his opening 13 holes but he finished on four under after closing with back-to-back bogeys.

That meant he fell behind Canadian Taylor Pendrith, who was five under after 17, the highlight of his round being an eagle on the par-five 16th.

Morikawa’s superb early start included an eagle on the second while Ramey collected six birdies in his opening 11 holes.

England’s Danny Willett, who was hoping to make the cut in this tournament for the first time in six attempts, was among the early starters and recovered to post a level-par 72 after dropping a shot on his first hole.