McIlroy off to flying start at British Open

Tiger Woods happy with his return to major competition but annoyed by spectators' cameras and mobile phones

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the 5th green during his first round in the British Open at Hoylake, near Liverpool, on July 17, 2014. Gerry Penny / EPA
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The British Open experienced a case of deja vu on Thursday with glorious weather at Royal Liverpool and Tiger Woods high on the leaderboard in the opening round.

But it was a man who was not present the last time the event was held on this course, in 2006, who shone the brightest. Young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy carded a flawless 66 to be the leader after the first round.

McIlroy continued his trend of getting off to flying starts in tournaments in 2014, firing birdies at the second, fifth and sixth to be out in 32 and adding more on the 10th, 12th and 16th.

At 6 under, he held a one-shot lead over Italian Matteo Manassero, whose compatriots Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were a shot further back alongside Sergio Garcia and American duo Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka.

Woods, playing his first major after back surgery on March 31, was lurking on three under, the 38 year old using his driver once, on the par-five 16th, as he did in 2006. On that occasion, the driver was never used again on the rock-hard links.

The course was greener this time, but the ball was still bounding along the fairways and McIlroy was delighted to take advantage.

“Any time you shoot 66 at the Open Championship, you’re going to be pleased,” the 25 year old said. “We had perfect scoring conditions out there this morning. There wasn’t much wind early on and there were plenty of opportunities to make birdies, and I was able to take a few of them.

“It’s another great start and, yeah, looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow.”

That was a reference to his unfortunate habit of following good rounds on Thursday with bad ones on Friday, the latest example being scores of 64 and 78 in the Scottish Open last week.

“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays, there are not really many expectations,” said McIlroy, who also led the 2010 Open after an opening 63 at St Andrews but followed with an 80 in bad weather.

“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, so you’re going out with some expectations compared to Thursday. I think I’ve just got to approach it like that, start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round, just like I did today.”

Woods missed the cut in his comeback event at the end of last month and looked set for more woe after dropping shots on his first two holes – he only had two bogeys in the first 36 holes in 2006 – but crucially saved par from eight feet on the fourth and picked up his first birdie of the day on the next.

A hat-trick of birdies from the 11th – where he holed from off the green – was followed by a bogey on the 14th, but Woods responded with birdies on the 15th and 16th to return a 69.

“I knew I could do it. That’s why it was so important for me to play at Congressional,” he said. “At Congressional I made some terrible mistakes mentally. My decisions weren’t very crisp and I wasn’t decisive enough. Today was totally different and consequently I shot a better score.

“I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster, I’m getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again and those are all positive things.”

The negative thing as far as Woods was concerned was a repeat of the distractions in 2006 from spectators’ phones and cameras, which led to a ban the next year.

He backed off his second shot to the 18th green twice, stopping midway through his downswing the first time.

Mobile phones and other devices were allowed back into the Open in 2012 and the R&A have installed a “Wi-Fi mesh” around the course to allow spectators to use them to keep up to date with the action.

Asked if catering to spectators in this manner was something of a double-edged sword, Woods said: “Just put it on silent. I’ve had numerous years of dealing with this. There’s a lot of moving parts out there and you’ve just got to stay focused and plod my way around.”

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