PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Playing for the first time since the Masters a month ago, getting married and switching equipment, Rory McIlroy said he felt “rusty” in his opening-round one-over 73 Thursday at the Players Championship.
More worrisome is that he aggravated the same joint in his back that bothered him earlier this year when he missed two months following extensive equipment testing.
“My back has got a little bit stiff again, I guess just from obviously building it up and playing through and then not doing anything for three weeks and then coming back last weekend and hitting balls for four or five hours a day,” said McIlroy, who added that he has been limited in practice this week, playing just nine holes at TPC Sawgrass before teeing off in the tournament.
The reigning FedEx Cup champion got off to a slow start with a bogey on the opening hole, three-putting from 35 feet. He bounced back with a birdie on the par-five second and made the turn in even par but made a sloppy double bogey on No. 10, yanking a one-foot tap-in left of the hole in a lapse of concentration.
After a birdie on No. 12, McIlroy found water off the tee at 14 and went on to make another double bogey.
“I didn’t hit enough fairways, didn’t hit enough greens,” said McIlroy, who hit six fairways and 10 greens. “Felt like I was scrambling all day.”
He could at least take solace in how he finished.
McIlroy got up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 16th then added another at 18, rolling in a long putt from just outside 30 feet.
He trails leaders William McGirt and Mackenzie Hughes by six.
The bigger concern, however, might be his back, something that has at times been problematic for the 28-year-old dating to early in his career.
“I think this week it’s just about trying to manage that and get through the week and try to play with what I have,” McIlroy said. “Then next week try to get that better and try to recover and try to play a good stretch of golf from here through the summer and obviously focus on the majors.”