Rory McIlroy and his Nike clubs may be long gone from the Arizona desert after old pal Shane Lowry unceremoniously bounced him out of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the first round. But fans will, no doubt, hear much about the struggles the absent world No. 1 continues to have taming his new sticks (see: Nick Faldo, one of the analysts no doubt ready to reiterate his criticism of Rory’s gear switch on Golf Channel’s “State of the Game” on Friday night).
The golfer in question followed up a disastrous outing in Abu Dhabi last month with a prolonged vacation before taking the field at Dove Mountain as the top overall seed. Sloppy iron play, shaky putting, and a first-round 1-up ouster were the results.
McIlroy got off to an early 2-up lead with pars on the second and third holes. But then Lowry went on a machine-like birdie run that included chipping in on the par-5 11th and the 12th, and absolutely standing on a fairway metal that gave him a conceded eagle on the par-5 13th.
Game, set, and match, though McIlroy pulled to within one with his only birdie of the day on the par-3 16th.
Particularly obvious problems for McIlroy were rightward-flying iron shots, which often negated tee shots that were better than the wayward drives he sprayed all over Abu Dhabi.
Afterward, McIlroy, who prior to the start of the tourney defiantly swung back at naysayers of his equipment change, blamed himself, not his weaponry, for his heave-ho.
"I've just been missing a lot of [irons] right, just getting ahead of it,” McIlroy, who now has played just three competitive rounds all season, told reporters after his abrupt exit. “I think it's more a timing thing than anything else. Everything else was actually pretty good out there. I just need to go and work on them.”
He noted he had more control of his driver, which he battled mightily in the Middle East.
“I felt like I drew the ball really well. I hit the ball well off the tee. I just need to take advantage of the driving I've been doing. I'm hitting the ball so much better off the tee, which is a huge positive. I'm more comfortable with everything around the greens,” he said. “Yeah, obviously disappointed I didn't get to play a little more golf this week, but I'll practice over the weekend....It shouldn't be a lot of work. I just have to go and look on the range at it."
Evidence of his rust and perhaps discomfort with his Nike toolset were everywhere. After his tee shot on 15 found the desert, he blasted a shot from a bunker over the green and into the prickly Sagauro. He also missed some manageable putts with his Nike Method putter, which he tweaked after dropping it from his bag in favor of his trusty Scotty Cameron in the second round in Abu Dhabi.
''You want to try and get as far as you can, but I guess that's match play,'' McIlroy said. ''I probably would have lost by more if I had played someone else in the field. It wasn't a great quality match. But it would have been nice to get through and just get another day here and another competitive round under my belt.''
Instead, McIlroy joined Nike stablemate Tiger Woods, a first-round loser to Charles Howell III, on an early flight out of Tucson. Next up for both -- the Honda Classic, where last year Woods carded a final-round 62 and McIlroy notched his first of four 2012 PGA Tour wins.
More from SB Nation: