Abu Dhabi – The world's top two golfers, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, were both set to miss the cut in their first tournaments of the season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Friday.
McIlroy finished well outside the cut line, while playing partner Woods appeared to have made it into the weekend before he was hit with a two-stroke penalty for a rules infringement that appeared to end his challenge.
Playing for the first time in competition with his new Nike clubs after signing a mega-money, long-term deal with the US sportswear giant, the 23-year-old Ulsterman clearly failed to get the hang of his new sticks.
Starting the day well down the field after an opening 75, McIlroy had three straight pars but that failed to steady his ship and three bogeys in the next four holes sent him spiralling to six over, well outside the projected cut line.
He birdied eight and nine to pick up some hope, but bogeys at the 10th and 14th all but sealed his fate in a tournament where he was runner-up last year with his old Titleist clubs.
Another wild drive into desert scrub at the last summed up his day as he eventually came in with another 75, which left him tied for 99th position and with no hope of making it through to the weekend.
The last cut McIlroy missed was at the US Open in San Francisco last June, which ended a run of three missed cuts in four tournaments.
It was shortly after that that his game suddenly picked up again and he went on to win the USPGA title at Kiawah and the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
McIlroy does have the excuse that Abu Dhabi was his first tournment since winning the World Tour Championship in Dubai in early December.
But he will need to return to the driving range for some much needed repairs in the four-week break he has that follows before the tournaments in the United States leading up to the Masters, the first of the four majors at Augusta National.
Playing partner and Nike stablemate Tiger Woods also struggled to find his game as he bogeyed four of the first five holes.
But the 37-year-old world No.2 produced a battling back nine with three birdies in a row from the 14th to get back to level par. A bogey after another wild drive at the 17th popped him over par, but he shot regulation on the last to come in with a 73.
That left him at one over for the tournament, with the cut projected at two over. But it was then announced that he had been hit by a two-stroke penalty for a rules infringement in sand at the fifth hole, turning a five into a seven.
Several players had to still to finish their second rounds. but it seemed unlikely the cut would move out to three over.
It was also the first tournament of the year for Woods, whose focus this year is on winning a 15th major title, four and a half years after his last success at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. – Sapa-AFP