Rory McIlroy's bid for a first win of the season looked like being washed away on a miserable opening round for the former world number one in the Irish Open.

McIlroy won five times last year, including his second major title in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, but has struggled to reproduce that form in 2013.

The 24-year-old finished 41st in the US Open at Merion a fortnight ago and yesterday apologised for throwing a club and bending his nine iron out of shape during a final round of 76.

The nine iron - one of the Nike clubs he controversially changed to in a multi-million pound deal in January - has since gained a new shaft, but that did little to improve his fortunes as he carded an opening 74 at Carton House.

Starting from the 10th, the world number two bogeyed the 11th and 12th before hitting back with a birdie on the short par-four 13th, but then dropped another shot on the 18th after a poor drive and equally poor pitch.

As the light rain which had been falling for most of the day intensified, McIlroy missed from 15ft for a birdie on the par-five fourth and then three-putted the par-five eighth from long range.

A birdie on the last came as welcome relief, but at two over par McIlroy was eight shots off the lead held by Oscar Floren, who hit a birdie at the last to complete a round of 66

McIlroy's playing partner Shane Lowry finished the day joint second alongside fellow Irishman Michael Hoey, Joost Luiten, Peter Uihlein and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet. 

Lowry, who was still an amateur when he won at County Louth in 2009, had bogeyed the opening hole but hit back with a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th and picked up another shot at the 18th to be out in 33.

He also birdied the fourth and eighth before a par on the last completed a round of 67 at the venue he represents on the European Tour and where he owns a house.  

"I just feel a little lost at the moment" - Rory McIlroy

Irish players are generally well placed with Cian McNamara lying on four under and Seamus Power a shot further back.

Paul McGinley started with a 70, while Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell were both a stroke worse off.

Rory McIlroy cut a disconsolate figure after his round and there was a long pause when he was asked what was going wrong.

"I don't really know," the world number two said. "No aspects of my game are standing out as strong. I'm hitting it well on the range and struggling hitting shots out on the course. The game is not coming as easy to me as it did last year.

"Off the tee I'm missing it left and right and it's difficult to stand on the tee and be confident that at least one side is out of play. I don't know if it's a case of playing through it or grinding it out on the range.

"I just feel a little lost at the moment. I had a good chat with my dad and Michael Bannon (his coach) the Saturday night of the US Open and felt like we got a bit of direction from there, but it's tough when you have rounds like this or you have tournaments where you think you're getting somewhere and all of a sudden you're stopped in your tracks and you've got to re-assess everything again.

"I'm staying patient and I don't want to say I'm accepting this, but there's nothing else I can do apart from trying to play well, practise and try to hit better shots."

"I play this course week-in, week-out and know it like the back of my hand" - Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry with the benefits of home advantage revealed: "Family are banned from the house until Sunday afternoon.

"I always hang out with Graeme Storm and Oliver Fisher and when the tournament was announced I said they could stay with me. I'm trying to keep my routine as normal as possible this week.

"It would seem like there should be more pressure on me this week, but I'm looking at it as an advantage. I play this course week-in, week-out and know it like the back of my hand.

"I went to Baltray just happy to be there and would have been happy going home with four rounds under my belt, but obviously I came away with a lot more than that. This week and 2009 is like chalk and cheese. You can say I'm coming here trying to win the tournament but I'm trying not to talk too much about it."