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Rory McIlroy Struggles Early, Shoots 72 in Round 1 of 2020 Players Championship

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2020

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: 	Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his drive on the 11th hole during the first round of The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 12, 2020 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Through one round of the Players Championship, Rory McIlroy has an uphill battle ahead to successfully repeat as champion.  

McIlroy shot an even-par 72 and sits in a tie for 85th place after wrapping up play Thursday.

The atmosphere at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, was a bit surreal.

Numerous sports leagues across the country have suspended play due to COVID-19. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced the tournament would continue as scheduled but go on without any fans in attendance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

McIlroy immediately got his tournament off on the wrong foot as he bogeyed the opening hole.

He was fortunate to avoid a second bogey in a row after he hooked his drive on No. 2 well to the left and into the trees. He somehow threaded his second shot through to the fairway to set up a par.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

A window of opportunity. 🌲🌲 @McIlroyRory through the trees. https://t.co/I3AgDvVO07

A birdie on No. 6 got McIlroy to even par, but he bogeyed Nos. 7 and 8 to fall back to two over and tumble down the leaderboard.

It was the same story on the back nine.

A birdie on the 13th hole provided little respite as McIlroy's erratic striking off the tee continued on the 15th hole. His drive sailed left and into the trees. He needed four shots to get onto the green en route to a double bogey.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

Heads up! 🤦‍♂️ https://t.co/iKhwuquI9g

McIlroy closed with a late flourish, birdieing his final three holes.

Bob Harig @BobHarig

Rory McIlroy birdied his last three holes Friday at TPC-Sawgrass to shoot even-par 72. So there is that. #PlayersChampionship

Still, he made his way to the clubhouse with nine shots separating him from tournament leader Hideki Matsuyama. 

He reached eight of the 14 fairways and 12 greens in regulation, per PGATour.com. His minus-0.735 strokes gained off the tee were 107th in the field.

While McIlroy has time to get his title defense on track, his performance over the entire season doesn't necessarily bode well for his chances. According to PGATour.com, the first round has been his best on average (67.5), and his scoring average has climbed to 69.0 in the second round.

The four-time major winner will tee off Friday at 8:46 a.m. ET.

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