The world No 1 was blown off course by strong afternoon breezes on day one, although he did give himself some momentum for Friday after he birdied the final two holes to salvage some pride after a shocking start.
McIlroy blocked his opening drive into dense shrubbery and was unable to find his ball, and he eventually did well to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker to limit the damage to a double-bogey six.
He steadied himself with a par at the second and a birdie at the long third, but another poor drive cost him another shot at the next before his tee-shot to the dangerous par-three fifth landed in the water short of the target.
A second double-bogey resulted and, although he clawed a shot back at the eighth to turn in 38, he got into further trouble on the inward half as he bogeyed the 11th and 14th ??? where his drive barely stayed in bounds ??? to drop to five over par.
The 2012 champion needed something positive to take into the second round, and his mood lifted after he nailed a superb 30-foot putt for birdie at 17 before finding the long 18th comfortably in two to set up a closing four.
“The conditions were obviously very tricky from the start. You know, from the first hole, it was always going to be a day like that,” said McIlroy, who lost out to Russell Henley after a play-off last year. “At least the wind started to die down for us the last few holes.
“I feel like I salvaged something out of the round the last couple of holes, but it was just a day to keep trying, not to give up. I’m coming off a three-week break, so these were tough conditions to come back in. Guys were all struggling. It was a grind out there.
“Today wasn’t what I wanted to start with, but if I can get it into red numbers tomorrow I’m right back in the tournament. I looked at the forecast for Friday morning, and it looks nice. Hopefully the conditions will be a little easier.”
When asked about his lost ball at the opening hole, he added: “The wind just took it to the right. I was just trying to play a normal sort of straight shot there and I didn’t really try and do much with it.
“Even the second ball I hit, I tried to put some draw on it and the wind still moved it to the right. It was very strong out there and very difficult to control the ball.”