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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – From the moment he arrived in his ancient seaside village earlier this week, Rory McIlroy has had a confident bounce in his step, a cloak of calmness enveloping him, an upbeat conviction that a special week was ahead for him at the 150th Open Championship.
It has been a dozen years since he tied for third in the Open at St. Andrews, a windblown, second-round 80 getting the best of him. And it’s been seven years since he wrecked his ankle playing futbol on the eve of the most recent Open at St. Andrews and was forced to withdraw when he was the heavy favorite and undisputed best player in the world.
Missing an Open is tough. Missing an Open at St. Andrews is downright painful.
So he waited. And waited. There also is a drought the four-time major winner and 2014 Open champion has endured, a span of eight years since winning his most recent major, a nagging fact that has weighed on him.
Still, all was well heading to Scotland, and McIlroy knew he had three top 10s in majors this year. Thus, his look as he stepped to the first tee of the Old Course for Thursday’s first round of the oldest championship in golf was that of a winner.
And his scorecard bore that out.
Rory McIlroy hits his second shot on the 16th fairway during the first round of the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Old Course. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
McIlroy began with a 50-footer for birdie on the first and ended with a tap-in birdie on the last. In between, he was solid, adding five more birdies to offset a lone bogey en route to a 6-under 66.
By day’s end, McIlroy trailed only Cameron Young, who contended in the PGA Championship and is looking for his first PGA Tour title. Young birdied the first and last, as well, and signed for a 64.
At 67 was Players champion Cameron Smith and Robert Dinwiddie, who birdied the last hole to get to 5 under. In a group at 68 were world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson and Viktor Hovland. Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele led a large group at 69.
“I just never got anything going,” Woods said.
McIlroy did from the get-go.
“Everything feels very settled,” McIlroy said. “No real issues with my game. Everything feels like it’s in good shape. Everything feels just sort of nice and quiet, which is a nice way to be.
“I came in here playing well, and I’ve played this golf course well over the years. So I knew if I just went out there and played my game and stuck to my game plan, that something like this was possible. I need to go out tomorrow and back up what I just did today. I think that’s important to do. I’ve seen the golf course now in tournament play and tournament conditions and know what to expect. Tomorrow’s an important run, just to go out and back up what I’ve done today.”
Young led the battering of the Grand Old Lady. With nary any wind offering little to no resistance, and with the rumpled ground mimicking concrete to produce a layout playing much shorter than the 7,313 yards on the scorecard, the Old Course at St. Andrews was defenseless against the best players from around the world.
Tiger Woods tees off on the 12th hole during the first round of the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Old Course. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)
Red numbers lit up the fanout yellow scoreboards. More than 50 players broke par, more than 25 broke 70. Yet the players were still challenged. And if the wind blows?
“Right now this is links golf in its extreme form,” 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink said. “A ball is just running until something stops it, usually the rough or sand. If it was blowing 20 to 30, I don’t know how you’d play this.
“It’s kind of insane. In a great way.’”
Smith had a great time.
“It’s nice to get off to a hot start any week, really,” he said. “But these majors, I think the tougher the course gets, especially around here, how it’s going to get really firm and really fast, it’s almost going to be like holding on I think on the weekend. Nice to get out there and shoot a number and get myself well under par.”