Rory McIlroy’s home country Open Championship started nicely on Thursday as he was greeted with a massive ovation after walking to the first tee. That might end up being the best part of his day.

That’s because McIlroy hit his tee shot at the first out of bounds to the left. When he re-loaded and again hit iron, it again went left. This time it stayed in play, but it was buried in the gorse. From there he hacked out into some deeper stuff up by the green and had to take an unplayable. If you’re struggling to count that high (like me), McIlroy was hitting six from up by the green. He failed to get up and down and had to put a quadruple-bogey 8 on the very first box of his 2019 Open.

If it sounds bad, I can promise you it looked worse. McIlroy, always cocksure, looked a little distant and maybe even mildly overwhelmed by the reality of the entire thing. Not just the quad but this event coming to his home country for the first time. It’s a big deal both for him and for the people of Northern Ireland. And the entire thing was nearly over before it started. McIlroy went on to bogey the par-3 third hole, too, and was 5 over and nine back about an hour into his round.

McIlroy was the favorite coming in this week at Royal Portrush, and it wasn’t difficult to see why. He’s finished in the top five in each of his last four Opens, and he’s been, statistically, the best golfer in the world in 2019. Also, you may have heard this by now, he holds the course record at Portrush.

But now he faces a nearly impossible uphill climb. Nobody in the last quarter-century has dug this kind of hole and recovered to win a major. McIlroy will obviously have a better chance than most because, well, he’s better than almost everyone in the field, but it would be a miracle if he’s walking Round 4 on Sunday with the Claret Jug on his mind. It’s a shame, too, because everyone in attendance seemed poised to spur McIlroy on to what could have been (and I suppose still could be) the most important victory of his career. 

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