|-8 M NeSmith (US), M Hubbard (US); -7 N Lashley (US), S Burns (US); -6 S Stricker (US); -5 T Hoge (US), X Schauffele (US), T Potter Jr (US), K Bradley (US), B Horschel (US), K-Hoon Lee (Kor)|
|Selected others: -3 R Knox (Sco), B Koepka (US), J Rahm (Spa); -2 L Oosthuizen (SA); -1 R McIlroy (NI)|
Rory McIlroy was seven off the first-round pace at the Phoenix Open after a one-under-par 70 which included three dropped shots in his first two holes.
Playing in the TPC Scottsdale event for the first time, the former world number one double bogeyed his first hole and squandered a further shot at the next.
But three birdies before the turn got him back to level par and he improved to two under before a late bogey.
US players Matthew NeSmith and Mark Hubbard lead after rounds of 63.
World number 203 NeSmith’s best finish on the PGA Tour is sixth place at last year’s Puerto Rico Open while 153rd-ranked Hubbard’s top career performance is a second spot at the 2020 Houston Open.
After starting at the 10th like McIlroy, NeSmith went to the turn in a six-under-par 30, helped by an eagle three at the par-five 13th.
His second nine was not quite as spectacular but he did manage birdies at the third and sixth as he signed for his 63 which was soon matched by Hubbard, 31, with other US players Nate Lashley and Sam Burns one behind after rounds of 64.
US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is in fifth spot after a 65 – six ahead of European skipper Padraig Harrington – while Spain’s world number two Jon Rahm fired an opening 68.
McIlroy’s awful start
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy got off to an awful start as his opening tee shot flew into trouble before a thinned shot out of one greenside bunker to another saw him eventually take a six.
After another errant tee shot at his second hole, he missed a six-foot par putt before he got a break at the par-five 13th as he managed to find the green with his second shot despite another pushed drive to the waste area.
Another par-five birdie at the 15th – despite his tee shot ending in a huge divot – and long putt at the next got him back to level par but while he improved to two under on his second nine, he missed a six-foot birdie chance at the fourth before dropping a stroke at his penultimate hole which left him sharing 50th spot.
McIlroy revealed on Wednesday that the embedded ball incident at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open was the result of a volunteer stepping on it during a search but not telling him and also said in his media conference that the governing bodies’ proposed rule changes to reduce distance in golf “reeked of self-importance”.
World number Xander Schauffele, one of McIlroy’s playing partners, shot a 66 which left him sharing sixth spot in a group which included 2011 US PGA champion Keegan Bradley.
Despite the global pandemic, a reduced daily crowd of 5,000 spectators is being allowed in the Arizona tournament, which is normally renowned for a raucous atmosphere with it being staged over the Super Bowl weekend.