Rory McIlroy looks out of sorts and out of the running at the BMW Championship

Place in next week’s Tour Championship seems far away after first round 78 as Snedeker shoots a 63

Rory McIlroy stretches after hitting off the 15th tee during the first round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club yesterday. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy stretches after hitting off the 15th tee during the first round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club yesterday. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Fri, Sep 13, 2013, 01:01

Rory McIlroy’s place in next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, looked perilously out of reach after a dismal first round yesterday in the BMW Championship at Conway Farms, outside Chicago. McIlroy shot 78, seven over par with Graeme McDowell finishing on 70, 1 under par.

As McIlroy continued to struggle with his game on a breezy day, defending champion Brandt Snedeker, who at one stage had a magical 59 in his sights but finished with an 8 under par 63, tore through the field in a first day of savagely swinging fortunes.

“I just kept trying to give myself birdie chances. I made a couple of long putts and you need that kind of luck with the wind blowing like that,” said Snedeker.

Tiger Wood’s also looked comfortable and relaxed as he kept in touch with the top of the field that also included Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel.

But none of the leaders could match leader Snedeker’s seven straight birdies from the 13th to the first hole as he set the course alight just as McIlroy slumped around the fairways wondering where all the magic in his hands had gone.

How many times this season has it been said McIlroy’s game is out of sorts. Yesterday that question seemed insufficient with “out of sorts” wholly inadequate as the longer the round went on the more his card resembled that of an average amateur player.

McIlroy, who started on the 10th hole couldn’t have had a worse beginning to his day, when he carded a double bogey 5 on the par 3 11th. The 24-year-old, who came into the Chicago tournament ranked 49 in the FedExCup standings needs to finish inside the top 30 of the overall rankings from a field of 70 to make it through to next week’s concluding event, the Tour Championship at East Lake GC in Atlanta.

The bottom line is that to make it to Atlanta, the Ulster man must finish inside the top eight this weekend. There is no cut, but on yesterday’s form that number looks increasingly remote.

The winner in Atlanta will receive a stunning $10 million from the $35 million prize pool as well as over $1.4 million as the tournament prize winner.

Last year Snedeker equated his $11.44 million payday to winning the lottery, when he finished with a three-shot victory over Justin Rose to win the Tour Championship and a trophy that came with $1.44 million. Add the $10 million bonus from the FedEx Cup, and it was by far the richest payday of his career.

This frustrating season McIlroy has finished lower than 30th in the field seven times including a withdrawal from the Honda Classic in March after the first round and missing the cut at this year’s British Open. He was tied 47th in the last event in which he played, the Deutsche bank Championship.

Only four players including Rickie Fowler and England’s Lee Westwood, who was said to be having trouble with his back and neck, was shooting higher scores than the Irishman, who closed his first nine on 39, three over par.

Hoping for a fresh beginning on the first hole, which was the beginning of his back nine, McIlroy stumbled as he crashed to a triple bogey 7, his chances of qualifying falling further from view. In the end he carded a triple bogey, one double bogey, four bogeys and just two birdies in the round, 15 shots off Snedeker.

Snedeker topped the leader board with 63 with Johnson in second place on -7 and Schwartzel at 5 under par tied third on 66 with Steve Stricker and Woods.

Graeme McDowell, who shot a 1 under par 70, had an encouraging start to his day. Like McIlroy, he started his round on the 10th hole but unlike the younger player he shot off to a wonderful double birdie opening. A three on the par four 10th hole and a two at the 11th hole, where McIlroy came to grief, was as good as it could get for McDowell.

He bogeyed his fourth hole, the par 4 13th, steadied up on the long par 5 14th before adding to more birdies to his card thru 15 and 16. At the end of it all he closed the front nine with four birdies and two bogeys for a 34.

His final nine holes were another piece of tapestry but he was able to keep more blue birdies and white pars on the card than brown bogeys, ending in the minus numbers and one of the higher ranked European players but a bunch of shots of the leaders. McDowell is currently 48th in the FedEx Cup standings and requires a top-five to be certain of progressing, regardless of how others in the field perform.