Rory McIlroy admitted his frustrating, opening 71 at The Players Championship was a “fair reflection” of his play at TPC Sawgrass.
McIlroy was unable to take full advantage of the friendly, early scoring conditions as he mixed four birdies with three bogeys to sit five shots off the lead.
The 29-year-old did made a positive start with excellent putts for birdies at 11 and 12, although he then three-putted the 13th before getting the shot back at the long 16th.
McIlroy did well to salvage a bogey-five at 18 after pulling his tee shot into the water down the left, and he made another mistake at the long second when he failed to find the green from a greenside bunker and ran up a disappointing six.
But he lifted his spirits with a sublime chip-in for a bonus birdie at the fourth, and he settled for five closing pars as further good birdie chances went begging at the sixth and ninth holes.
“It could have been better, but it could have been probably a little worse as well,” McIlroy said afterwards. “It was probably a fair reflection of how I played. I had some chances that I didn’t take advantage of, but I got up-and-down a couple of times and chipped in, so it was okay.
“Looking at the scoreboard, it looked like it played easy out there but our group didn’t feel like that, with what we shot. But I guess there wasn’t much wind and greens were pretty receptive so you could have shot a low one. I’ll hopefully make a few more birdies tomorrow.”
McIlroy short-sided himself at the fourth before pulling off a “one in a hundred” chip-in, and he added: “I don’t think people would probably appreciate how tough that was unless they were down there. So that was nice, it was a bonus.
“I was actually contemplating putting it, but even if I putted it I might not have got within six or seven feet, I just wanted to try to leave myself a putt, but that checked into the hill quite nicely.
“I thought it was actually going to go across the front side of the hole and you hit chips like that a lot, or not a lot, but when you do it’s rare that they go in. It’s a bonus if they drop, and I think that if you give me another hundred shots I wouldn’t get them in the hole from there, so that was nice.”
But it was a tough day for McIlroy’s playing partner Jordan Spieth, who found water three times on the back nine in a scrappy three-over 75, which could have been worse had it not been for an eagle at the 12th.
And world No 2 Justin Thomas, the third member of the stellar grouping, failed to build on a bright start as he stumbled to a 73.