The world’s top two golfers, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, both missed the cut in their first tournament 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 squeezed into the weekend before he was hit with a two-stroke penalty for a rules infringement that sunk his challenge.
By the time the dust had settled, England’s Justin Rose was the leader at the halfway stage at eight under par after a 69, with rising Danish star Thorbjorn Olesen (69), Jamie Donaldson of Wales (70) and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (67) all a further stroke back.
But it was the astonishing double demise of McIlroy and Woods that was the story of the day.
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 McIlroy 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 tournament 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.
“I knew it was going to be a tough week with everything going on, but I was just looking forward to getting to the golf course and getting back to what I do and what I am comfortable with,” a clearly frustrated McIlroy said.
“It just didn’t work out like that.”
Playing partner and Nike stablemate 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.
That was enough to seal his fate.
“It’s tough because I didn’t get off to a very good start today and I fought and got it back,” he said of the penalty stroke drama.
“I was right there and I felt that if I had close to even par, I had a chance going into the weekend, being only eight back. Evidently it wasn’t enough.”
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.
Tournament leader Rose said that his recent surge of form came down to an improved fitness regime and softer shoes to take the strain away from his suspect lower back.