IRVINE, Scotland (AP) Rory McIlroy had already dropped two strokes by misjudging wedge shots early in his first round at the Scottish Open when he created an opportunity to make amends.
From the center of the fairway and less than 100 yards out, McIlroy sent his approach toward the green at the par-4 No. 13 - his fourth hole - at Dundonald Links. Soon, he was hanging his head.
The ball landed short and right of the putting surface, and rolled down an incline and into a burn. A drop, a duffed chip and two putts later, McIlroy had made a double-bogey 6 and a round on which he'd placed so much importance was already getting away from him.
From 4 over after four holes, McIlroy recovered to shoot 2-over 74 on Thursday but was already battling to avoid a third missed cut in four events.
Hardly the British Open build-up he had envisaged.
McIlroy isn't playing like a world No. 4 heading to Royal Birkdale next week. He has been tinkering with his putting routine - in his words, ''taking ownership'' of his stroke after becoming ''bogged down in technical thoughts'' - and spent last weekend working on his wedges after his struggles in missing the cut at the Irish Open.
The extra practice didn't benefit him Thursday. His short game was his weakest department - he knifed a chip from the side of the ninth green through the back and into a bunker, while a wedge from the middle of the fairway on his 17th hole didn't find the green - and his putting was frustrating once again. Of his four birdies, three were tap-ins on par fives.
His driving was mostly excellent but he couldn't capitalize on it.
McIlroy looked deflated after a last-hole bogey and didn't speak to reporters after his round, leaving playing partner Rickie Fowler to talk for him.
''I know he didn't make the swings he wanted to today but he did a great job of hanging in there, fighting and showing some grit,'' said Fowler, who shot a 67 and demonstrated the kind of consistency that McIlroy is clearly seeking.
But Fowler backed McIlroy to find his form.
''He'll be fine,'' Fowler said. ''He's one of the best players in the world.''
Fowler, who is around the same age as McIlroy and considers the Northern Irishman a good friend, said McIlroy was in a ''great spot'' both on the course and in his personal life. McIlroy married his fiancee, Erica Stoll, in April and said Wednesday that she is providing a source of comfort amid his disappointing run of form.
''I'm in a very fortunate position that if I have a bad day on the course, I go home and I have a nice dinner and have a couple of glasses of wine and all is right with the world,'' McIlroy said.
He laughed and joked with Fowler and the other member of their group, Henrik Stenson, on the tee and walking down the fairways, but McIlroy couldn't hide his disappointment after poor shots on and around the green.
''Should have backed away,'' he said out loud after sending a shot on the 7th veering into the thick rough. McIlroy also confronted a photographer who he thought had clicked his camera ''too early'' as Fowler hit his tee shot on No. 1.
McIlroy is already seven shots off the lead in western Scotland and another missed cut would dent his confidence ahead of the Open.
He keeps saying he is ''close'' to his best form, but not on this evidence.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80