Disaster for McIlroy as Lowry leads Irish challenge at Erin Hills

Disaster for McIlroy as Lowry leads Irish challenge at Erin Hills

Rory McIlroy's pre-tournament boast that "you might as well pack your bags and go home" if you can't hit Erin Hills' 60-yard wide fairways came home to haunt him last night

On a day when Shane Lowry played superbly but had to birdie his final hole for a one-under 71 to trail leader Rickie Fowler by six shots, McIlroy eagled the second to go two under, then played the next 16 in eight over, hitting just five fairways en route to  his worst US Open score in 27 rounds, a six over 78.

The world No 2 shot 77s at Pebble Beach in 2010, at Olympic Club in 2012 and in the opening round at Oakmont last year. 

Given his pre-event bravado about the width of the fairways and his annoyance at the USGA's decision to cut it back some of the deepest patches of fescue, his disastrous opening round leaves his title chances in tatters.

Having declared in the build-up that his failure to win a major since 2014 has been down mainly to getting off to slow starts, the 28-year old Co Down man must do what no-one has done in 116 previous US Opens — shoot more than 75 in round one and go on to win.

"Well, it all started so well," McIlroy said, referring to his eagle two at the 330-yard second, where he drove the green and holed a 28-footer.

"I hit the fairway on the 10th and I didn't hit another one on the way in. You cannot play this golf course if you're not in position off the tee, and I wasn't in position. Obviously, I paid the price for it today."

McIlroy followed his eagle with bogeys at the third and eighth to turn in level but came home in 42 by following dropped shots at the 11th and 13th with double-bogey sixes at the 15th and 17th - both of them the result of visits to the deep stuff.

Insisting he felt no ill effects from the rib injury that has allowed him to play just six events this year, he said rust and timing were to blame.

"Just timing was a little bit off, and that was it," he said. "Just really bad tee shots which led to obviously not being able to give myself many looks for birdies.

"I started missing some left on the course and tried to sort of correct it on the way in and missed a couple right. So a little bit of timing, and a bit of rust as well."

Set for an early start today, McIlroy knows that he is capable of going out and shoot a round in the 60s and get back into the mix. But after also taking 32 putts with his new TaylorMade Spider Red putter, it looks like a tall task.

"I feel like I'm capable," he said. "As I said, I just need to get the ball on the fairway. If I get the ball on the fairway, I can give myself some chances and some looks at birdies."

Asked if karma played its part considering his comments on the wide fairways, he said: "I don't think so. They should be wide enough for me to hit it into. I just didn't hit it into them. Yeah, it was just one of those days. I was just a little bit off.

"I watched some of the coverage earlier on and saw what Rickie did, and Brooks Koepka and some of those guys. I thought I was on course to do that after being two-under through two, and didn't work out that way."

Lowry played beautifully from tee to green for 15 holes and was unlucky to be only two under par walking off the par-three sixth, his 15th, after his greenside chip hit the pin and stayed above ground.

He then hit his 103-yard approach to the par-five seventh a touch heavy and was so annoyed to come up well short of the green that he failed to get up and down for par.

"It was hard to keep patient, but I kept telling myself to keep patient, that’s why that bogey on seven was very frustrating," Lowry said. 

"That chip shot on six, I thought it was a lovely pace and it was going nowhere else and I don’t know how it stayed out, so to go from three under to one under like that..."

His frustration was still evident when he hooked his tee shot into the deep rough at the eighth and dropped another shot to slip back to level.

But his frustration turned to general satisfaction at the ninth after he hit a towering wedge to seven feet and converted the birdie putt.

Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry

"I played nice. I would have felt very had done by if I had only shot even par out there," said Lowry, who missed on three fairways and ended the day tied for 29th.  

"But there are no tournaments won on a Thursday. I just got a little annoyed on number seven when I hit my wedge shot pretty heavy. 

"I am very happy with one under even though scoring is quite good out there.  We know it is a US Open and they are going to do something to bring that back. 

"I drove the ball lovely today apart from eight really. I didn't hit many bad drives so all in all it was a good day.

Lowry started on the back nine and birdied the 11th from 10 feet and the 15th from just eight to get to two under.

And while he might have shot in the sixties, he found the greens difficult in the afternoon and hopes to make a move early on Friday.

"I did feel quite a bit of expectation on me this week, from myself as well because I am playing so well," he explained. 

"There have been times in the past where I have had great practice rounds and warmed up really well and not gone out and done the business. So it was nice to go out and do it today. 

"I felt very comfortable out there. I just got a little bit negative on the third shot on seven but other than that it was a great day.

"It's hard to sit there this morning and watch the guys shooting seven under, and five under and then you go out and the golf course is not that easy. 

"The greens did spike up a lot in the afternoon. I did struggle with my pace on them today but hopefully, they will be lovely in the morning, and I can keep on doing what I am doing. 

"I feel like I know where the clubhead is and where the ball is going to go and it's nice when it is like that. 

"The thing is this golf course is all about getting it in the fairway, if you get it in the fairway you should be hitting greens really. I think the key for me was I drove the ball nicely.

"I was quite annoyed with myself after the tee shot on eight, and I said to Dermo walking up after the third shot that it was completely my fault. 

"I just lost the head a little bit, because I had been driving the ball well and I was picking my targets well and I just didn’t make a good swing there."