PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A year after tying for eighth in what was his best finish in THE PLAYERS Championship, it turns out Rory McIlroy is still trying to figure out Pete Dye's signature course.
Though he says he is more comfortable on it than in recent years, he failed to take advantage of ideal conditions Thursday morning, shooting a 2-under 70 that featured nearly as many bogeys (four) as it did birdies (six).
"There's some tee shots that I still don't feel that comfortable on," said McIlroy, who is seven shots off the lead. "Visually it's awkward. You got tee boxes lining you up in wrong directions and you're having to hit across a lot of fairways. The depth perception is hard with the way the trees are. It's just, visually, it's a typical Pete Dye golf course."
Considering that McIlroy won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick -- both designed by Dye -- it seems he would perhaps have a better record at TPC Sawgrass, where he has missed the cut in three of his four appearances.
Early in the opening round, though, it looked like he had indeed turned the corner.
The former world No. 1 played his first 11 holes in 5 under, which included a run of three straight birdies on Nos. 18, 1 and 2 as he made the turn.
But then he pulled his tee shot into a bunker on the par-3 third and made bogey after failing to get up-and-down. Three holes later McIlroy made another bogey, hitting out sideways from an awkward stance just in front of a fairway bunker before eventually hitting a wedge to 35 feet and missing a putt to save par.
The final bogey came at the eighth, where McIlroy missed the green left on the 233-yard par 3 and again failed to get up-and-down.
"I played really well for the first 11 holes," he said. "I just let a couple of shots, a couple of shots get away from me at the end.
"Something in the 60s would have been good. Walking off if you're not posting something in the 60s, after such a good start ... it's a little disappointing. A couple little stupid mistakes, but the game was in good shape and if it wasn't just for that bad stretch of seven holes at the end, it would have been obviously a much different story."