World number one Rory McIlroy failed to replicate the form of previous weeks in the opening round of the FedEx Cup playoffs after an opening 74 left him nine back of early leader Bo van Pelt.
The Northern Irishman never really recovered from a sloppy outward nine of four over and although he birdied the ninth - his 18th - to finish with a flourish, the four-time Major champion has plenty of work to do on Friday if he is to make it four consecutive wins.
Van Pelt leads
American Van Pelt went bogey-free in his 65 to sit atop the leaderboard by one stroke from a host of players at minus five, including Ryder Cup hopeful Hunter Mahan as well as fellow compatriots Jim Furyk, Cameron Tringale, Charles Howell III, Ben Martin and Brendon Todd.
Paul Casey led the European charge on Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club as he also shot a 66 that included an element of luck at 18. His tee shot, despite finding the hazard, left a playable lie and he was able to escape with a hard-earned par to ensure he, like Van Pelt, did not drop a shot all day.
Scotland's Russell Knox was one stroke adrift of Casey at minus four, with last year's US Open champion Justin Rose a shot further back.
Fowler in contention
America's Rickie Fowler, who became only the third player in history to finish in the top five of every Major in a season when he finished third at the US PGA earlier this month, is once again in the hunt.
The 25-year-old endured a mixed front nine that saw him mix four birdies with two bogeys before showing the added maturity that has been evident so often throughout this season in his game by coming home in one under with a solitary birdie and eight pars.
Four-time Major winner Ernie Els, American trio Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Keegan Bradley were other notables to card an opening-day 68.
For McIlroy, though, it was a timely reminder that this sport is untameable even after three victories on the spin that has seen him lauded as a sporting super star.
After nearly birdieing the tenth, his first, the 25-year-old struggled from there on in on his opening nine holes. A double-bogey at 12 was immediately followed by a bogey at 13, before another dropped shot at the par-four 18th to go out in 40.
And although he managed to get one back on his inward nine, his round of three over left him outside of the top 100 going into Friday.
It was the first time in 13 rounds that the Holywood-born golfer has failed to break par.
Not on his game
“I’m not quite on my game. I’ve not quite put in the time over the last few days for obvious reasons,” he told Sky Sports post-round.
“I’m going to go and have some lunch and then work on the range, work on a few things, and try to catch up on some practice I’ve missed out on over the last week and try to be ready for tomorrow.”
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