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crisis of confidence More pain for Rory McIlroy at Augusta as Masters bid left in tatters

Down star now 32-over for opening rounds of 25 Major events since 2014

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Rory McIlroy reacts after his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the first round at Augusta. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Rory McIlroy reacts after his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the first round at Augusta. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Rory McIlroy reacts after his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the first round at Augusta. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Rory McIlroy’s crisis of confidence and his Masters misery continued as he slithered painfully to a four-over 76 in the opening round at a punishing Augusta National.

With the course playing firm and fast, the Co Down man’s lack of self-belief was evident as he sprayed the ball all over the Cathedral of Pines, even hitting his father Gerry with a wayward approach as he found just 10 greens in regulation and mixed six bogeys with two birdies to trail runaway leader Justin Rose by 11 shots.

The Co Down man is now 32-over-par for the opening rounds of the 25 Majors he has played since he captured the most recent of his Grand Slam titles in 2014.

But this latest reverse was not due to the pressure of trying to become just the sixth man to complete the “Career Grand Slam” by winning the Masters, but just another poor round by a player in the midst of a swing crisis. He was, however, proud of his battling qualities.

“It was just one of those days but I hung in there I hit some good shots coming in,” said McIlroy. “I could’ve made a couple more birdies but it’s not as if anyone’s going really low either so I’ll do a little bit of practice and hopefully feel a little more comfortable tomorrow and go out and shoot a good one.

“My goal is to play well and at least give myself a chance and honestly I’m quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in. I hit some loose shots out there but after hitting that six-iron in the water on 13 I hit some really good shots coming in so I am encouraged by that.”

The former world No 1 recently switched coach to Pete Cowen after a lifetime with Michael Bannon and admitted he was struggling to adjust.

“Any time you are working on things with your swing it is going to feel very different but it is not as if I haven’t done these things before,” he said. “You get into these bad habits and that feels normal and then you get it back into a position where I’ve been a million times before and I just feels a little different.

“I think more than anything else around here it is trusting that on the side slopes and having balls that are two feet above you and that was sort of what happened on 13.

“When I’m on the range I can do it every time but on the golf course to get different lies and different winds and that’s the litmus test right there. It’s still didn’t feel quite 100pc but as I said I was encouraged by some of the stuff I played out there.”

As for hitting his father Gerry attempting a raking hook out of the trees at the seventh, he said: “In fairness, it was where I was trying to turn it off it was a perfect shot it was dead straight but I think he was OK, he didn’t limp away, he walked away pretty swiftly so that was all right.”

He added: “I knew it was my dad when I was aiming at him probably 30 seconds before it hit him. I think he needs to go in and put some ice on it. Maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him!”

“He really thrives on being confident and he’s not confident at the moment it’s quite clear,” Paul McGinley added on Sky Sports.

“He’s just going through a coaching addition to his team in Pete Cowen and we’ve never seen that before from him we’ve never seen him question his ability in his own mind before in terms of bringing in a second coach and a second set of eyes to look at what he’s doing.

“So he’s out of sorts that’s the bottom line with him. Mentally, we’ve seen a lot of this from McIlroy where he dips in and out of form.

“He’s volatile as a player and when he’s hot, he’s really hot and when he’s cold, he can be really cold.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it. I certainly don’t believe this week is because of the weight of expectations of trying to win the Masters.

“I think he’s coming in on a very low level of confidence and obviously got a bit of confusion with his golf swing and he’s questioning himself and questioning his ability. But what we do know is that we’ve seen him in slumps before and he will come out of it.”

McIlroy did get off to a solid start with a textbook par-four at the difficult first but was soon looking as bruised as his outfit as he struggled to trust his swing.

It was clear he was not firing on all cylinders when he wiped consecutive tee-shots into the pines at the second and third and walked away from two birdie holes with hard-fought pars.

At the second, he escaped from the right trees but pitched seven feet above the hole and watched his slick birdie putt snap left at the cup. Then at the third, he was again in trouble right and did well to keep his pitch on the green before two-putting for par.

He steadied the ship with a safe, two-putt par at the short fourth, but after coming up just short of the green at the fifth, he pitched 10 feet above the hole and missed the slippery putt for par.

A bogey there was no disaster but he quickly made it three dropped shots in a row with further mistakes at the sixth and seventh. At the 180-yard sixth, he missed long left to a back left pin and while he did well to give himself a 10-footer for par, he missed the putt on the low side before shedding another stroke went at the seventh.

This time he was blocked out in the trees on the left and after his attempted hook around a pine went right into the gallery, rebounding off his father, he took three more shots from there and pencilled in another bogey.

Tied for 54th at this stage, he rebounded at the eighth by pounding a 340-yard tee shot down the middle before ripping a long iron, 239 yards to 13 feet to set up and eagle chance.

He missed the right-to-left effort on the high side, however, and after tapping in for birdie to get back to two-over, he three-putted the ninth from 17 feet to turn in 39.

He burned the edge with a birdie effort at the 10th but carved his tee shot right onto the spectator path in the trees at the 11th and pulled his second into the lake.

He did well to drop just one stroke by holing a slick 25-footer from the fringe for bogey to go to four-over.

But after getting up and down for par at the 12th, where he flew the green, his plight was summed up by his bogey at the 13th where the ball was above his feet for his approach but fearing another miss to the left, he push his 215-yard second into Rae’s Creek and walked off with a bogey six.

Even when he left himself a seven-footer at the 14th, it was from above the hole and he lipped out for his birdie.

Two good shots set up a two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th but he could not find a birdie coming home and ended up tied with 63-year-old Ian Woosnam and two shots behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer (74). Those two have green jackets in their locker, for McIlroy another year for that chance looks already to have passed him by.

Masters Leaderboard (early completed first round scores)

(a) denotes amateurs, USA unless stated

69: Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)

70: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Webb Simpson, Will Zalatoris

71: Si Woo Kim (Kor)

72: Cameron Champ, Kevin Kisner, Jon Rahm (Spa), Xander Schauffele, Michael Thompson; 73: Abraham Ancer (Mex), Corey Conners (Can), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Hudson Swafford, Brendon Todd; 74: Stewart Cink, Harris English, Dustin Johnson, Matt Jones (Aus), Brooks Koepka, Bernhard Langer (Ger), Sebastian Munoz (Col), Ian Poulter (Eng), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Bubba Watson; 75: Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Robert Streb; 76: Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Jim Herman, Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Danny Willett (Eng), Matthew Wolff, Ian Woosnam (Wal); 77: Jason Day (Aus); 78: Lee Westwood (Eng); 80: Ty Strafaci; 81: Sandy Lyle (Sco); 82: Joe Long (Eng).

Today’s tee times, all times Irish

1.0pm V Singh (Fij), M Laird (Sco); 1.12 L Mize, J Walker, B Gay; 1.24 C Ortiz (Mex), M Hughes (Can), B Wiesberger (Aut); 1.36 M Weir (Can), CT Pan (CTa), R MacIntyre (Sco); 1.48 JM Olazabal (Spa), M Wallace (Eng), L Griffin; 2.0 V Perez (Fra), J Kokrak, M Leishman (Aus); 2.12 F Couples, F Molinari (Italy), *C Osborne; 2.24 Z Johnson, K Na, G Woodland; 2.36 S Lowry (Ire), J Rose (Eng), M Kuchar; 2.48 B Horschel, T Hatton (Eng), R Palmer; 3.06 P Mickelson, T Fleetwood (Eng), S Scheffler; 3.18 P Cantlay, S Im (Korea), M Fitzpatrick (Eng); 3.30 A Scott (Aus), B DeChambeau, M Homa; 3.42 T Finau, L Oosthuizen (RSA), J Thomas; 3.54 J Spieth, C Smith (Aus), C Morikawa; 4.06 M Thompson, H Swafford; 4.18 S Lyle (Sco), M Jones (Aus), D Frittelli (S Africa); 4.30 I Woosnam (Wal), J Herman, S Cink; 4.42 S Munoz (Col), H Stenson (Swe), R Streb; 4.54 B Langer (Ger), Will Zalatoris, *J Long (Eng); 5.12 B Harman, I Poulter (Eng), B Todd’ 5.24 C Schwartzel (RSA), S Woo Kim (Kor), C Conners (Can); 5.36 D Willett (Eng), J Niemann (Chi), K Kisner; 5.48 J Day (Aus), M Wolff, C Champ; 6.0 H Matsuyama (Japan), H English, A Ancer (Mexico); 6.12 B Watson, B Koepka, V Hovland (Nor); 6.24 S Garcia (Spa), W Simpson, C Bezuidenhout (RSA); 6.36 D Johnson, L Westwood (Eng), *T Strafaci; 6.48 X Schauffele, J Rahm (Spa), R McIlroy (NIrl); 7.0 P Reed, D Berger, P Casey (Eng)

The Masters, Sky Sports, 2.0pm

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