NEWCASTLE, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Rory McIlroy can't seem to perform in front of a home crowd.
The Northern Ireland star looked bewildered as he shot a 9-over-par 80 - his worst score of the season - in Thursday's opening round of the Irish Open. He finished the morning at the bottom of the leaderboard, with half the field yet to tee off.
Many players struggled amid gales and pounding showers at Royal County Down, a links course in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains famed for its stunning seaside setting, blind approaches and difficult greens. France's Alexander Levy, midway through his round, led the field at 4 under par.
McIlroy bogeyed half of the course and couldn't hit a birdie. The sellout crowd of 20,000 gasped with each miss, and offered relieved applause as he narrowly two-putted his final hole for par.
"My poor iron play led to missed greens, which led to giving myself a lot of 8- to 12-footers for pars, and that led to missing all of them," said McIlroy, who described his play as "worse as I got closer to the green."
He had played three practice rounds at the course south of Belfast after failing to make the cut at Wentworth last weekend, but the unexpected extra practice didn't help his play.
If McIlroy fails to make the cut Friday, it would be his third straight early exit at the Irish Open. He's never come close to winning the event in eight tries.
But McIlroy, whose Rory Foundation children's charity is hosting the Irish Open for the first time, said he's climbed out of worse holes before and won't concede defeat. He said he might need to shoot a 5-under-par second round to make the cut.
McIlroy said his first goal Friday is to give Northern Ireland fans "something to cheer about and not just have sympathy claps."