By Tony Jimenez
GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - World number two Rory McIlroy suffered a "brain dead" moment at the 15th hole and felt he was generally "unconscious" as he stumbled his way to an ugly eight-over 79 in the British Open first round on Thursday.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman, whose form has deserted him since he changed clubs at the start of the year after signing a mega-bucks deal with Nike, sported a look of sad resignation when he walked off the 18th green at Muirfield.
"I just need to concentrate but sometimes I feel like I'm walking around out there and I'm unconscious," McIlroy told reporters.
"I'm trying to focus and trying to concentrate...but I can't fathom it out at the minute. I wish I could stand up here and tell you guys what's wrong or what I need to do to make it right because I feel like I've got the shots.
"It's just a matter of going through the right thought process to hit them and that's something I obviously haven't been doing recently," said McIlroy.
"It's nothing to do with technique, it's all mental out there."
The scorching sun may have been beating down on the banks of the Firth of Forth but the storm clouds hovered over McIlroy's head from the start.
The double major champion bogeyed the fourth and fifth before getting one shot back with a birdie at the seventh.
McIlroy then dropped four strokes in three holes from the 10th before producing a wonder shot from the knee-high rough at the 14th, coaxing the ball to within six feet of the pin from a seemingly impossible position.
It was, however, a rare moment of delight amid the overall gloom because he proceeded to put the ball straight into a back bunker from the front of the 15th green to card his second double bogey in four holes.
"That was just thoughtlessness," said McIlroy. "It was just so brain dead.
"I feel like I've been walking around out there like that for the last couple of months. It's a very alien feeling, something I've never felt before."
Two more dropped strokes at the 17th and 18th means he now faces an uphill fight to make the cut on Friday.
"I made a couple of silly mental errors on four and five...and then I three-putted the 11th, it was a stupid mental error to hit it so far past the pin," said McIlroy.
"I want to try to be here for the weekend but the thing I need to do tomorrow is just freewheel and try and make birdies."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)