Low scoring dominated the first day of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool — with even a rusty Tiger Woods getting in on the act, despite opening with consecutive bogeys.
Perfect conditions — sun, very little wind and a receptive Hoylake links — meant players were able to take full advantage but the former world number one took some time to get going.
That was not the case for Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who blazed a trail to the top of the leaderboard at six under, thanks to a bogey-free 66.
“I couldn’t have asked for anymore, stuck to my game plan and tried to take advantage of the par fives,” McIlroy told BBC afterwards. “I hit a couple of poor shots out there but for the most part I had the golf ball under control.
“I’m really glad I went up to Aberdeen last week and played four competitive rounds last week”
As to whether he can keep it up on Friday, he added: “I’m playing well, swinging the club nicely and holing a few putts out there. I think they’ve forecast a little bit more wind tomorrow but I’m six under par and I’ll try to get to seven and then try to get to eight.”
McIlroy began as one of the favourites and he lived up to that billing with some brilliant approach play giving him plenty of opportunities to go low. He almost holed his mid iron at the second and that set the tone as he picked up two more strokes to reach the turn at three under.
Birdies followed at two of the par fives — the 10th and 16th — and the 447-yard 12th to edge one stroke ahead of Italian Matteo Manassero.
Shane Lowry was among the late starters who, by and large, found the going a little trickier as the wind picked up, but the Offaly golfer managed an impressive 68 after a rally at the back nine saw him come home in 32, with five birdies from the 10th.
Only Adam Scott managed the same score in the evening and both players will be happy with their efforts in slightly tougher conditions, as will Jason Dufner, who carded a 69.
Double Open champion Pádraig Harrington finished with a two-over-par 74, alongside Graeme McDowell, and two shots a adrift of Darren Clarke (72).
Michael Hoey was three over after a75, as was Irish amateur Paul Dunne who was level par through 10 before bogeys at 13, 15 and 18.
Woods bogeyed his first two holes — he began with a dropped shot when he won his third and last Claret Jug on this course in 2006 — but clawed things back with an impressive back nine.
The 14-time major winner, playing only his second event since a back operation in March, reached the turn in at one over after holing a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-five fifth but then proceeded to card five birdies in six holes.
It was a run spoiled only by a bogey at the 454-yard 14th after finding the left rough off the tee, eliciting a swear word for which Woods has become all too famous for in recent years.
A 40-foot birdie attempt at the 17th brushed the edge of the hole and, after encountering one or two disturbances from a phalanx of photographers as he attempted to reach the par-five 18th with his second, he closed out with a 69 after escaping with par from a greenside bunker.
Considering his two previous rounds were a 74 and 75 as he missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National last month, Woods will have been pleased with his day’s work.
He maintained his policy of avoiding driver on every tee except the 577-yard 16th — the hole where he used the club as he famously won the Claret Jug by getting it out of the bag just once in 2006. The American stated he had come here to win and having got a start there will be fewer people doubting that assertion now.
A cluster of players posted four-under 68s, including Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, American Brooks Koepka and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, with Woods in an even bigger group a further stroke back.