PORTRUSH: Open favourite Rory McIlroy was battling to recover from a nightmare start to his bid to lift the Claret Jug on home soil after recording a quadruple bogey on the first hole at Royal...
PORTRUSH: Open favourite Rory McIlroy was battling to recover from a nightmare start to his bid to lift the Claret Jug on home soil after recording a quadruple bogey on the first hole at Royal Portrush.
Northern Ireland’s best hope for a home winner could hardly have begun in worse fashion after pulling his opening tee shot out of bounds on the 424-yard par four. McIlroy’s wayward iron shot hit a female spectator and damaged a mobile phone in her pocket before ending up five feet outside the white posts which mark the internal out of bounds.
The four-time major winner, who set the course record of 61 at Portrush aged 16, then found the left rough with his second attempt and hacked his fourth shot into a bush from where he took a penalty drop, chipped to seven feet and two-putted for a demoralising eight.
The first five holes were playing downwind and offering plenty of birdie opportunities, but McIlroy could not take advantage of the par-five second and dropped another shot on the third after his tee shot ran through the green.
More trouble looked on the cards on the reachable par-four fifth hole after McIlroy carved his tee shot into heavy rough, but he was fortunate to find the ball and almost holed his birdie attempt after pitching to 30 feet.
McIlroy picked up his first birdie of the day on the par-five seventh and narrowly missed for another on the next, those two holes being created from the adjacent Valley Links to replace the original 17th and 18th which are being used to house the spectator village.
A birdie from 15 feet on the ninth took McIlroy to the turn in three over par and seven shots behind clubhouse leader Shane Lowry, the Irishman carding five birdies and a solitary bogey on the difficult 11th in an opening 67, the lowest opening round of his career in any major.
In stark contrast to McIlroy, his fellow Northern Irishman Darren Clarke had enjoyed a dream start as he hit the opening tee shot at 6.35am after enjoying a prolonged ovation as he strolled on to the first tee.
No stranger to coping with emotional tee shots after playing in the 2006 Ryder Cup shortly after the death of his first wife Heather, Clarke found the right-hand side of the fairway with his drive, hit his approach to 15 feet and promptly holed for a birdie.
The 2011 champion, who plays mainly on the Champions Tour since turning 50, also birdied the second and third to raise hopes of a fairytale result, but eventually had to settle for a level-par 71. “It could not have been better, hitting the first tee shot and making birdie, wonderful,” Clarke said.