McIlroy looking at an open and shut case in Portrush

Tournament favourite faces huge task just to make the cut after opening round of 79

Rory McIlroy in the rough on the 18th hole during the first round of the 148th British Open at Royal Portrush. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy’s opening round was book-ended by disasters, a quadruple bogey at one end, a triple at the other. This wasn’t how it was meant to be, as the old course - on an historic day - spurned him without apology. And, having waited years in anticipation, time sucked the 30-year-old Northern Irishman into a great black hole within seconds which left him spinning out of control in compiling a 79 in his first round of the 148th British Open championship on the Dunluce links.

In between the jigs and the reels, there was - for a long time - a steely resolve to undo the disastrous start, where a pulled 3-iron off the tee flew leftwards towards the triangle of rough that provides internal out-of-bounds. The ball struck into a spectator’s mobile phone, but the ricochet only propelled it onwards beyond the white stakes rather than back towards safety and the player was forced to reload, ultimately running up an eight which included taking an unplayable lie in greenside ferns with his second ball.

In practice on Wednesday, McIlroy had hit his tee-shot out-of-bounds down the right. “That might have been in my head a little bit, not sort of wanting to leak it out to the right,” he conceded of the poorly struck tee shot in competition, an act which brought silence from those spectators crammed into the grandstand.

And, yet, having endured as horrible a start as he could ever have imagined on this championship's return to the Portrush terrain, McIlroy dug deep and kept to his task to such a degree that his was not a lost cause as he played his tee shot on the Par 3 16th, that 236 yards hole known as Calamity Corner.

Rory McIlroy on the first day at Royal Portrush. Photograph: EPA

Even after the tee shot, which finished on the edge of the green, McIlroy - three-over on his round at the time - seemed more surefooted as his rescue mission looked doable. But he left his first putt short, and then missed the par putt. His mind wandered as he walked up to tap in and, lo and behold, he missed the six-inch putt to run up a double-bogey out of nowhere.

“That was inexcusable. Tee shots like the first happen, you can get one riding on the wind a little too much, that’s fine. But lapses of concentration like that (on 16) . . . I feel like I’ve done a really good job over the last few years of being more with it and realising, ‘Okay, just keep a cool head’. And there I didn’t. I sort of hit it on the run and missed it. And if I look back, it’s probably the shot I’m disappointed about the most.”

Of that six-footer for par, he further explained: “In normal conditions with not a lot of wind it was probably like a ball on the left. But the wind was hard off the right. I’m thinking, ‘is the wind going to affect this or not?’ I still played it a ball on the left, and I missed it left. So as I’m walking up to hit the next one (and) I’m sort of talking to myself about the last putt. It’s not like my head is going to Kelly’s (the entertainment complex across the road) or something. But I’m berating myself about the putt and I just hit and went to tap it in and didn’t.”

And McIlroy’s woes would be compounded by his play of the 18th, a Par 4 which played as the most difficult of the first round. His drive was pushed right, into the thick rough, and his first attempted recovery failed to move the ball out of its patch. What followed was a series of shots - back to the fairway, an approach that missed the green right, a pitch and two putts - that saw him running up a triple bogey seven to finish.

The 79 matched the 79 he shot in the opening round at Muirfield in 2013 when he missed the cut, the only time in 10 previous championship appearances he’d failed to make the weekend. He has been left with a mountain to climb if he is to survive into the weekend here.

“I’ll dust myself off and come back out tomorrow and try to do better. I definitely think if I can put the ball in the fairway (in the second round) I can shoot a good enough score to be around for the weekend. Obviously I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn’t think about winning at this point. But I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s, be around for the weekend, and then try to play good from there.”

First round scores from British Open at Portrush (British unless stated, (a) denotes amateurs, Par 71):

66 J.B. Holmes (USA)

67 Shane Lowry (Irl)

68 Alex Noren (Swe), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Webb Simpson (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Brooks Koepka (USA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Jon Rahm (Spa), Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Robert Macintyre, Tyrrell Hatton, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Lee Westwood

69 Sang Hyun Park (Kor), Justin Rose, Ashton Turner, Romain Langasque (Fra)

70 Andrew Putnam (USA), Charley Hoffman (USA), Yuki Inamori (Jpn), Branden Grace (Rsa), Patrick Cantlay (USA), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Eddie Pepperell, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Kevin Kisner (USA), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Rickie Fowler (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jason Day (Aus), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Callum Shinkwin, Matt Kuchar (USA), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Cameron Smith (Aus), Russell Knox

71 Justin Harding (Rsa), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Darren Clarke (NIrl), Doc Redman (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), (a) James Sugrue (Irl), Ernie Els (Rsa), Mikumu Horikawa (Jpn), Sungjae Im (Kor), Patrick Reed (USA), Matthew Fitzpatrick

72 Inn-choon Hwang (Kor), Aaron Wise (USA), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Gunn Charoenkul (Tha), Yosuke Asaji (Jpn), Connor Syme, (a) Curtis Knipes, Corey Conners (Can), Lucas Glover (USA), Bubba Watson (USA), Brian Harman (USA), Dustin Johnson (USA), Abraham Ancer (Mex), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters (Bel), Nino Bertasio (Ita)

73 Andrew Johnston, Matt Wallace, Joost Luiten (Ned), Shaun Norris (Rsa), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Oliver Wilson, Takumi Kanaya (a) (Jpn), Chez Reavie (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Prom Meesawat (Tha), Adrian Otaegui (Spa), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Luke List (USA), Brandon Wu (a) (USA), Chris Wood, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Keegan Bradley (USA), Jim Furyk (USA), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Patton Kizzire (USA), Alexander Levy (Fra)

74 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Jason Kokrak (USA), Ryan Palmer (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can), Danny Willett, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), David Lipsky (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Doyeob Mun (Kor), Xander Schauffele (USA), Zach Johnson (USA), Sung Kang (Kor), Stewart Cink (USA), Haotong Li (Chn), Brandt Snedeker (USA)

75 Adri Arnaus (Spa), Kyle Stanley (USA), Paul Waring, Nate Lashley (USA), Sam Locke, Tom Lewis, Chan Kim (USA), Paul Lawrie, Yoshinori Fujimoto (Jpn), Ian Poulter, Keith Mitchell (USA), Jack Senior, Austin Connelly (Can), Isidro Benitez (Mex), Pádraig Harrington (Irl)

76 Dong-kyu Jang (Kor), Andrew null Wilson, Jorge Campillo (Spa), (a) Matthias Schmid (Ger), Phil Mickelson (USA), Joel Dahmen (USA), Robert Rock, Andy Sullivan, Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Jake McLeod (Aus), Billy Horschel (USA)

77 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai), Kevin Streelman (USA)

78 Tiger Woods (USA), Adam Scott (Aus), Marc Leishman (Aus), Tom Lehman (USA), Matthew Baldwin, Richard Sterne (Rsa)

79 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Garrick Porteous

82 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa)

83 Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Dimitrios Papadatos (Aus), (a) Thomas Thurloway

90 David Duval (USA)