The Open 2014 leaderboard: Rory McIlroy wary of another Friday meltdown after masterly display

McIlroy holds a one-shot lead after day one

Oh, oh, look away. It’s Friday, and Rory McIlroy is leading The Open. Golf’s sharpest shooter on Thursdays invites doom today after an opening 66. Ordinarily that is grounds for a party at Hoylake, but in McIlroy’s case it is a prompt to hide behind the sofa.

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By the time he tees it up this afternoon the world No 1 Adam Scott will have had the chance to augment his own impressive introduction. Scott flirted with hegemony after reaching the turn in four under par. His 68 leaves him one of six, including Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk, who are two shots back. Matteo Manassero, who opened with a 67, will also be pressing an excellent case.

McIlroy sources his second-round neuroses to the Masters, where he fell away badly on the back nine, barely making the cut. He rolled out his subsequent trials in hypnotic detail, the traumas leaving scar tissue in the synapses serving the memory. But let us do as he suggests and look forward with optimism.

McIlroy is staying in a Wirral palazzo with a big back garden. He prescribed for himself not a session with a counsellor on Thursday afternoon but a kick-about with his mates, maybe watch the late starters come in on television, then dinner with his parents. He has, he believes, got today covered.

“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there’s not many expectations. You’re going out there and you’re trying to find a rhythm, and you’re just trying to play your way into the round. When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you’re going out with some expectations.

“I think I’ve just got to approach it like that (Thursday), start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round, just like I did today. I hit some really good shots on the first holes and that gave me confidence and then I could go from there. That’s what I’ll be trying to do tomorrow.” 

His 66 was a golfing demonstration waiting to happen. Hoylake will never be more compliant, a sunny, windless morning stripping the course of its defences, at least when ranged against this Ulster blade. He almost holed his 6-iron approach at the second to leave a tap-in birdie. He was three under after six holes, by which time the rhythm of his flawless round was well and truly set.

Though the conditions did not allow for the quarter-miler off the tee that debuted last week in gusty Aberdeen, McIlroy was imperious off the tee, piping a beauty down 16 to set up his sixth and final birdie of the day. And how the audience loved it. There can surely be no finer feeling for a Briton than to parade before your own while leading the Open, even for a Manchester United fan in Liverpool country.

The presence of ex-United manager David Moyes on the premises clearly did not putt him off. The closest he came to hostile banter was the suggestion he get a haircut after removing his cap on the 17th tee. There was a lovely moment, too, as he threw his ball to a young lad by the 15th green. It was intercepted by a hirsute middle-aged figure with a slip fielder’s instincts. “Thank you very much,” he said. “That was for the kid,” McIlroy said with accompanying ‘look’, at which point beardy bloke meekly surrendered the bounty. “Thank you,” said McIlroy.

You would have thought John Singleton, the world’s most famous forklift truck driver, had shot a 66 of his own given the smile cracking his features on 18. Perhaps there are no downsides on days like these for a man who clocks on in Birkenhead at eight every morning.

Singleton held it all together with eight straight pars out of the box, and answered a bogey at the ninth with a birdie at the next. But six shots went coming home to leave him 12 off the lead on six over par. “I made a few bad swings, and made a few bad putts as well. But that happens. I’ve just got to go and sort it out tomorrow and play better.”

Woods.jpg
Woods hits from a bunker on the 18th hole

How could a son of the Wirral be disappointed contesting the greatest show on golfing earth in front of family, friends and pretty much the whole workforce at Advanced Electrical Varnishes. “Yes, it’s The Open, isn’t it? And it’s home as well. So it’s something special and I can keep that one with me for the rest of my life.

“I did okay for the first eight holes and then it just got crazy. To see all those guys, just to make the effort to come see me, it’s fantastic. They’re my mates. I spent a lot of my time with them. They’re there to support me. I’m not some big-time Charlie who’s going to win. Obviously I want to win, but I‘m just there to enjoy myself and soak it all up. And they came out to enjoy it with me, and have a little bit of banter.”

No-one dared attempt banter with 2012 champion Ernie Els following his shocker at the first, where he three-putted from one foot. Yes, that’s right, 12 inches. After missing his tap-in bogey, Els attempted a reverse putt with the back of his club as if he were in the Sunday medal and missed again. A triple bogey seven was the result, setting the tone for a seven-over-par 79.

 

Also in the Els group, Masters champion Bubba Watson was another who did not enjoy the best of days after a decent start. When Watson’s game is dialled into the demand he is awfully difficult to match but when his head goes and that self-taught swing starts to fail, a car crash is often the result. The triple bogey seven at the 11th, courtesy of a shanked wedge and an ugly three-putt, was the low point in a round of 76.

There was anger in there, too, as well as rank bad shots, Watson not best pleased with the size of the media retinue following the third member of his attachment, defending champion Phil Mickelson, from inside the ropes. “There are thousands of people in here. All I’m trying to do is play golf,” he moaned after said shank. Perhaps the crowd had learned that Bubba couldn’t name a Beatle. That’s a snub of Parisian proportions in these parts.

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