|-8th C Young (USA); -6 R McIlroy (NI); -5 C Smith (Aus), R Dinwiddie (Eng); -4 B Brown (Eng*), K Kitayama (US), L Westwood (Eng), B Kennedy (Aus), V Hovland (Nor), S Scheffler (US), D Johnson (US)|
|Selected: -3 I Poulter (Eng), B DeChambeau (US), D Willett (Eng), X Schauffele (US); -2 R. MacIntyre (Sco); E P Mickeslon (US), T Fleetwood (Eng), J Thomas (US), C Morikawa (US), S Lowry (Irish)|
Rory McIlroy took advantage of favorable conditions as St Andrews Old Course remained largely defenseless on the opening morning of the 150th Open Championship.
The pre-tournament favorite shot six-under-par 66 to finish the game two behind first-round American pacesetter Cameron Young, who hit a 64 with no bogey.
Australia’s Cameron Smith, who won the Players Championship in March, is five under and was joined by England’s Robert Dinwiddie, who ended his round with a birdie in the dark at 10:10pm BST.
English amateur Barclay Brown is in good company with Norwegian Viktor Hovland and LIV golf trio Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler was one of the later starters, battling increasing winds and lightning-fast fairways to also finish four under par.
Two other LIV rebels, American Bryson DeChambeau and England’s Ian Poulter, are a shot behind, along with 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett.
Defending champion Collin Morikawa opened with a level par 72.
Three-time winner Tiger Woods dropped to 6-78 while England’s US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick signed for 72 after crawling together across the Old Course in six hours and nine minutes.
The pace of play is notoriously slow as the course is compact and players crisscross or wait for the greens to clear on driveable par 4 holes.
McIlroy discards markers
McIlroy of Northern Ireland came into play this week as a favorite, underscoring his threat with a sensational 55-foot putt to birdie on the first hole and a run of three birdies from the fifth that quickly took him to four under.
“It was great to get off to a good start,” he told BBC Sport. “It hasn’t been my forte in recent seasons but at the US PGA Championship, the US Open and now here I’ve had a good start and that’s all you could ask for.”
The world number two, who won the Canadian Open last month and finished in the top 10 at each of the previous three majors of the year, spoke ahead of the tournament about how “boring” golf wins championships and said after his round: “I’ll be boring all day if that’s what boring is.”
“There were a few adventures, but for the most part it was pretty stress-free.”
Poor second shots on the 9th and 10th holes slowed his progress, but his lone bogey on the 13th — which came after he got a 90-foot par putt within tap-in range — was met with an excellent on and Off the Rough penalized for birdie on long 14.
He then made terrific par saves on holes 16 and 17 after scratchy second shots left him with tricky pitches.
And the 2014 Open champion finally nudged for a birdie after hitting his drive to the left edge of the green and delaying his 85-foot eagle putt to 6 inches.
“I didn’t hear a heckling”
No Englishman has won the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo lifted it for the third time in 1992. That’s 30 years of pain for those south of the border. And while the championship is still in its infancy, there is reason for optimism as veterans Westwood and Poulter made solid starts while Brown put himself in a prime position to win the silver medal as a weak amateur.
Brown, 21, received a text message of support from fellow Sheffield native and US Open champion Fitzpatrick after qualifying for The Open by winning a 36-hole qualifying tournament.
Both learned their game at the Hallamshire Club and Brown, who potted a 45ft birdie putt on the par 4 17th, said, “I’m very happy with it, it was a lot of fun. I’ve managed to keep it relatively hassle free.
“I was incredibly nervous at first. But once I got through the first few holes, I calmed down a bit and hit a couple of good shots.”
Westwood is making his sixth appearance at the St Andrews Open, while Poulter is making his fifth appearance. Both overcame nervous opens, however, with the former recovering from a double bogey on the par-4 and finishing second with seven birdies on his 68.
Poulter, who received some boos at the first tee for his involvement in the start-up of LIV Golf, hooked his opening shot five feet from wide, a feat considering the 129-yard fairway.
He then potted an incredible 150-foot putt for an eagle two on the mobile par-4 ninth hole.
When asked about the taunts, Poulter said, “I didn’t hear any. I thought I got a great reception on the first tee. I didn’t hear a single heckling.”
And when asked earlier this week about R&A and Woods’ reaction to the Saudi-funded series he joined at the cost of being suspended from the PGA Tour, he said: “I’m staying out of my way on social media do not read.
“I just want to play golf, right? I can only do my job. If I listen to a lot of nonsense, I get distracted – it’s never going to do me any good. I’ll leave it to the smart people to figure things out and I’ll just play golf.”
Westwood, who has also joined LIV Golf, did not face any hostility during his round and accused the media of “inciting” them.
“I think the general public just wants to go out and see good golf no matter where it’s played or who’s playing it,” he added.
Scheffler leads the laggard
American Scheffler, who won the Masters in April, bucked the trend of later players traveling in windier conditions by racing to four-under after nine holes and playing the tougher back nine at level par.
“It was a lot of fun figuring things out there,” he said. “It was just so tight out there and the wind was blowing. It was just tough.”
He tied with two-time Major winner Johnson, who scored on those final holes with four birdies in his last eight, and Gooch, who caught a rare birdie on the 17th.
But the hopes of Woods, who reminded McIlroy earlier in the week that he was aiming for a third Claret Jug at St Andrews, began to dwindle at the Swilcan Burn on the first hole. A double bogey start became a six over after seven, with another double bogey.
Back-to-back birdies on the ninth and tenth holes briefly raised hopes of a comeback, but he signed for a 78.
“That was probably the highest score I could have gotten,” said the 15-time Major champion, who is still feeling the effects of the February 2021 car accident that nearly ended his career. “I just wasn’t that good on the greens.
“It looks like I’ll have to turn 66 [on Friday] to have a chance. I have to do it.”