Rory McIlroy at the Open. He opened with a 79 that day. In the BMW Championship he managed a 78. Picture Fran Caffrey McIlroy’s hopes of qualifying for next week’s Tour Championship are on life support with little hope of recovery after he carded a seven over par 78 in the opening round of his defence of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms near Chicago.

On a blustery day, the world No 4 saw his hopes of the top eight finish he needs to make the Top 30 who contest the FedEx Cup finale all but scuppered in the space of nine holes.

After a double bogey five at his second hole (the 11th) - where he found water with his tee shot -  the 24-year old followed a birdie at the 16th with bogeys at the 17th and 18th and a triple bogey seven at the first.

That was the cruellest blow of all as he found greenside sand 15 yards from the pin, overshot the green, chipped to four and a half feet from the fringe and the three-putted, missing a two footer for a six.

While he followed a bogey at the fifth with the birdie at the seventh to get back to six over for the day, he bogeyed the eighth and missed a birdie chance at the ninth to end the day tied for 66th in the 70-man field and 11 shots outside the top eight.

Only Matt Every (79), Lee Westwood (80) and Scot Piercy (81) fared worse on a day when Graeme McDowell shot a 70 and Brandt Snedeker an eight under 63 to lead by a shot from Zach Johnson (64) and by three from Charl Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Kevin Streelman and world No 1 Tiger Woods.

Ranked 41st in the FedEx Cup standings starting the week, McIlroy is projected to fall to 54th while McDowell, who needs a top five finish at worst to make the Top 30 from 48th in the standings, is projected to rise to 39th.

McIlroy has not had a bogey free round in the US since his opening 66 at The Players in May. He’s also had a double bogey or worse on his card in each of his last four rounds.

His 78 was his worst round since he opened with an eight over 79 in The Open at Muirfield in July.