McIlroy falls by the wayside at British Open, as Johnson sets target

World number two will struggle simply to make the cut after disastrous first round at Muirfield


Rory McIlroy’s woes continued on the first day of the British Open today as he slumped to an opening round of 79, at eight over just one shot off last place. His day’s work was summed up on the 15th hole, where he putted his third shot from the front of the green off the back and into a bunker for his second double bogey in four holes.

There was still time to drop another two shots, leaving him 13 shots off the pace set by Zach Johnson, before signing his card.

“I just put the ball in the wrong places,” the downbeat 24-year-old said after his round. “You can’t do that here, especially with the firmness of the greens. They were just stupid mental errors which I really shouldn’t be making. It (the course) has got so fast and firm that if you’re not in total control of your golf ball out there it’s gonna be difficult.”

McIlroy, who has not won since changing his clubs at the start of the year, had four sixes on his card — two of which were double bogeys. He managed just two birdies, both at par threes, and despite claiming he had found a new Nike driver he felt worked for him he hit just 35 per cent of fairways — well below the 61 per cent average for the rest of the field.

McIlroy — who yesterday told Nick Faldo he did not need his help after the six-time major winner publicly offered some advice — labelled himself “brain dead” for some of his shot selections in going for pins which were not really achievable. “Sometimes I feel like I am nearly walking around there and I’m unconscious,” he said. “I can’t really fathom it at the moment, it is hard to tell you what’s going wrong.”

Thing were not much better for the rest of the Irish and somewhat surprisingly it was 2011 champion Darren Clarke leading the charge on one over. Pádraig Harrington was a shot adrift of him, with Shane Lowry on three over and Graeme McDowell four over after a 75.

Gareth Maybin was one shot better off than McIlroy after a 78.

McDowell’s playing partner and world number one Tiger Woods recovered from a first-hole bogey to card a two-under-par 69.

Former US Masters champion Johnson surged to the top of the leaderboard after the early front-runners failed to hold their positions. The American, winner at Augusta in 2007, picked up five shots in as many holes on the front nine — including an eagle three — to take the lead as he reached the turn at five under. A birdie and a bogey on the way in saw him sign for a 66.

That was one better than Rafael Cabrera-Cabello and 1998 champion Mark O’Meara, and two ahead of his fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had been five under to the turn and had held a three-shot lead before giving strokes back coming home.

Johnson’s namesake and compatriot Dustin had also gone out in a four-under 32, only to bogey at 12, 15 and 16, before an eagle at 17, for a 68.

Later in the day Indian world number 192 Shiv Kapur threatened to upstage them all when he was six under through nine holes after turning in 30, but he double-bogeyed the 10th to drop back to four under. Another bogey at 15 saw him drop to three under and that’s where he stayed with a 68.

Former champion Todd Hamilton had enjoyed something renaissance with a round of 69 — the first time he had broken 70 at the tournament since the final round of his surprise win of 2004 at Troon. The 47-year-old had missed six of the last eight British Opens, including the last four in succession, and admits it had not all been plain sailing since lifting the Claret Jug. Asked how he reflected on the last nine years he said: “Terrible. There’s been days where I didn’t want to play.

“I definitely thought my golfing career would have been better after that than it was.”

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