Can Rory McIlroy bounce back from his disastrous first round 79 in THE PLAYERS Championship?

The defending champion lurched to a 7-over-par score that does absolutely nothing to allay the fears about the current state of his game.

In an interview with children ahead of this week's PLAYERS Championship Rory McIlroy was asked which superpowers he would like to possess.

"Teleportation," he answered, adding: "And if not that, invisibility."

Throughout Thursday at TPC Sawgrass how the Northern Irishman must have pined for those outrageous gifts.

Because, as the bogey count rose ever higher, he must have dearly wished himself elsewhere.

And when he pulled two balls into water on the 18th hole how much he must have wanted to disappear.

Golf, however, doesn't work like that.

McIlroy will return on Friday, even though only six golfers in the morning wave needed more blows than the 79 he took and he trails the lead (as it stood midway through the day) by 14 shots.

A weekend at home looms large, as do the questions about his form.

McIlroy couldn't get anything going on Thursday.
McIlroy couldn't get anything going on Thursday.

A successful defence of his title is clearly out of the question, but has he got it in him to go low tomorrow?

Let's take a look at the various angles, starting with the grim details of his opening effort.

Thursday morning blues

The round started as it would continue, with a hooked tee shot at the par-4 10th hole which led to a double bogey-6.

A three-putt bogey at the par-3 13th and failure to convert from 7-feet for birdie at the 15th added to the woe, but his first nine hadn't even begun to hit peak pain levels.

McIlroy pulled his drive into water off the 18th tee and, after a drop, his third shot went for a swim as well: quadruple bogey-8, where that's invisibility cloak?

The good news is that he added three birdies on the front nine. The bad news is he also squared three bogeys.

There's no sugar coating possible: it was a horror show.

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It was the worst first round score by a PLAYERS defending champion since Sandy Lyle's 79 in 1988 and his 43 for the back nine tied his own worst score for half a round on the PGA Tour.

No Bay Hill bounce back

Worryingly, this score comes straight off the 76 with which he closed last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

It's the first time he has failed to beat 75 in consecutive rounds since he carded 75 in the final round of THE PLAYERS in 2017 and opened his next event, the US Open, with a 78.

He did follow that up with a 71, but it was insufficient to make the cut.

It doesn't bode well.

Portrush

We do know that McIlroy has form when it comes to following the inexplicable with the barely believable.

He opened the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush with a catastrophic 79 and responded in style with a 65 that left him emotional, but still without any golf to play at the weekend.

Can we expect more of the same this week?

How has he responded to his last 10 first rounds of 73 or more?

Genesis Invitational, February 2021: 73-76

The Masters, November 2020: 75-66

Zozo Championship, October 2020: 73-67

CJ Cup, October 2020: 73-69

St Jude Invitational, July 2020: 73-66

BMW PGA Championship, September 2019: 76-69

Open, July 2019: 79-65

Memorial Tournament, June 2019: 75-71

The Masters, April 2019: 73-71

US Open, June 2018: 80-70

The good news is that nine times out of 19 he has gone sub-72 in response to a bad round and six times he went sub-70.

The bad news is that the most recent example is easily the worst.

Conclusions

McIlroy's playing partners in rounds one and two are Webb Simpson and Sergio Garcia.

Simpson opened with a 71 and Garcia with a magnificent 65.

The American thrashed a brilliant Friday 63 on his way to victory at Sawgrass in 2018, but it one of only two sub-70 scores he has carded in 10 second rounds.

The Spaniard has gone sub-70 in five of his 20 round twos on the course.

Bold fans of McIlroy might take him to break 70 and consider Bet365's 7/4 for him to win the three-ball as a touch of value, given that he has carded a 64 and a 65 in his last four Fridays at Sawgrass.

Others might note that they are his only sub-70 scores in 10 round twos.

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