No one will criticise their season more than Rory McIlroy, who is faced with his first winless season since 2008, but the Northern Irishman believes he can force his way into contention regardless of his poor opening round at St Andrew’s.

Flashback to last week at the British Masters, he nearly did, rallying to a weekend of 64-63, Rory McIlory finished in solo second at 17 under, three shots back of Ireland’s Paul Dunne at Close House.

McIlroy is playing in his final tournament of the year, teeing it up in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Which sees play take place at three of Scotland’s most treasured courses, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course at St. Andrews.

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Teaming up with his father Jerry, in the pro-am side of the event, the 28-year-old opened on the Old Course on Thursday, but didn’t show the same momentum he rode in the North East, carding a one-over 73 seeing him six shots back of Dunne, who is in search for a second straight victory.

The four-time major champion got out the blocks quickly with a birdie at the first, but then immediately slumped at the next making a sloppy double-bogey six.

Chances came in abundance for McIlroy but to the dismay of the loyal crowds, the damages were too great to repair as he went out in 37 and admitted to finding the greens and the tricky winds demanding.

I feel like I could have shot a few better but it was tough.

“Because some of the greens out there are quite exposed and you’re sort of in two minds whether to — when you’re reading a putt, whether to think that the wind is going to affect it or not.”

He dropped two shots in three holes early on during the back-nine, having him down on four-over-par with the wind continuing to pick up.

Then with the pressure on, at the home of golf, he made a birdie on the par-5 fourteenth before turning up the heat on the final hole.

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Ranking first on the PGA Tour for driving distance, averaging 317-yards throughout the season, McIlroy unleashed a mammoth 357-yard drive on the 18th hole with his ball finishing 10 foot from the flag.

His putt, for eagle, never looked on line and the Northern Irishman had to settle for birdie, his fourth of the day, to card a one-over opening round seeing him just inside the top-100.

“Momentum is a big thing. I feel like I’ve shot bad scores here — well, not bad but I’ve got off to slow starts here in the past and been able to recover and get myself back into the tournament.”

I feel like I can do the same again.

“It was okay. Was two-under for the last two to make it more respectable and hopefully I can play better at Carnoustie tomorrow.”

“The greens are very good. They are running very nicely. So it could actually be a good opportunity for some of the guys to score well tomorrow.”

One of two overnight leaders, Dunne got off to a quick start yesterday and birdied the third, drained a 20-footer at the sixth before finding the par-four ninth green in one and canning the eagle putt to reach the turn in 32.

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The Irishman’s only mistake came with a three-putt at the par-four seventeenth, on route to signing for a five-under 67 on St Andrews’ Old Course to take his place at the top along with Nicolas Colsaerts.

After eight consecutive sub-70 rounds Paul Dunne is 36-under par for his last nine rounds, he plays his second round at Carnoustie today.

“My iron play was good today,” Dunne said.

Disappointing finish, but in general feeling good. Life is pretty good at the minute.

The Belgian, playing his first round at Kingsbarns, regrouped himself after making double-bogey early in his round, went on to birdie four of his next five holes picking up seven shots in total throughout the day. It was Colsaerts lowest opening round of the season.

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Defending champion Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry were one shot back after day one on four under, followed by Frenchman Joel Stalter, Ryan Fox and Oliver Fisher.

With his solo fourth place finish on 17-under last season at the Dunhill Links, Joakim Lagergren, posted a fine 68 at Carnoustie and heads to Kingsbarns for Friday’s play.