The Barclays 2014: Rory McIlroy trails by eight shots in pursuit of first FedEx Cup

Americans Cameron Tringale, Hunter Mahan and Charles Howell III share the clubhouse lead

Rory McIlroy’s challenge for a first FedEx Cup win got off to a disappointing start as he shot a three-over par 74 in the first round at The Barclays, in New Jersey, the opening tournament of the four-event play-offs.

The Northern Irishman, ranked No 1 in the world and first in the FedEx Cup standings after winning the Open, WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship in succession, trails the leading trio in the clubhouse by eight strokes.

Americans Cameron Tringale, Hunter Mahan and Charles Howell III, all shot five-under rounds of 66 at Ridgewood Country Club to share the clubhouse lead.

McIlroy, who has appeared at more PR functions than golf courses since winning the US PGA earlier this month, starting on the back nine, made a double-bogey and two bogeys before the turn and a birdie on the par-four fifth was cancelled out by another bogey on his penultimate hole – the eighth.

But McIlroy slightly limited the damage by finishing with a birdie on the ninth hole to end at three-over.

Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Scotland’s Russell Knox were both a stroke behind the leaders on 67.

Jamie Donaldson is on course to secure the eighth automatic place in Europe’s Ryder Cup side, as he led the Czech Masters with a six-under 66. With two weeks of the qualifying race to go and the likes of Luke Donald and Ian Poulter close behind him, a good performance this weekend can secure a debut at Gleneagles next month. The two-time European Tour winner has previously visited Prague only for his brother’s stag weekend, but is keen to do well at Albatross Golf Resort.

“Things are quite close with the Ryder Cup spots but I just have to take each week at a time,” said Donaldson.

“There are two events left and I have to go out here this week and play well, play to win the tournament as I do every week.

“It’s a great target to have and it’s been a target for me for quite a while. You just need to ignore it and get on with the things that make you play well and keep doing those things to enable you to have the best week you can.”