With the Open only a week away, now might be a good time to hit some form. How about a course-record 64 to lead the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, including a 436-yard drive at the par-four 13th where his ball rolled on to the green as the group ahead were putting out? Sorry.
That is the kind of apology any golfer is happy to make and it pleased Rory McIlroy, who took two putts for his birdie, one of eight to set against a bogey at the fourth. “I thought anything in 60s would be a good score so that was pleasing, just the way I controlled my ball flight, which is the key to me playing well on a links course. Six birdies in seven holes around the turn helped,” the Northern Irishman said.
The wind that got up in the afternoon on Wednesday freshened still further on the opening morning of competition. Mercifully the players were spared rain. “I just started to hit some good shots and saw the putts roll in,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t putt so well in my last couple of tournaments at the Irish Open and the US Open so to do that today was nice. The work I have done in the build-up has helped and I was able to trust the shots in practice when I went out on the course.”
McIlroy has been imperious off the tee all year. It was only a matter of time before his short game fell into line. The trick now is to keep the four-hole meltdown off this card, a sequence that has dogged him in tournaments this year.
“I’m driving the ball really well and I feel if I can get driver in my hand and have an advantage on the field I should do it. Royal Aberdeen is a very good course. I saw it in the same wind conditions yesterday so that helped. I haven’t seen it in opposite wind and that is supposed to be happening. That will be a challenge but one I’m up for,” McIlroy said.
It was an excellent start, too, for Luke Donald, who shot a four-under-par 67 to bolster his confidence ahead of Royal Liverpool next week. The Englishman has been waiting patiently for the swing changes made in the past year to bear fruit. To get round without dropping a shot was testament to his progress. Defending champion Phil Mickelson was set for the same flawless 67 as Donald before three-putting the last for his only bogey of the day and an opening 68. The highlight was a typical piece of Mickelson magic, chipping off a cart path to conjure a birdie at the 13th.
A birdie at the last gave Justin Rose a two-under-par 69. Lee Westwood fought back from five over early on to finish one over par, a shot better than Ian Poulter and Sir Nick Faldo, who carded 73s.