Bob MacIntyre shoots 68 in The Open at Portrush and insists he could lift the Claret Jug

Bob MacIntyre's first-round 68 left him tied for third. Picture: Ian RutherfordBob MacIntyre's first-round 68 left him tied for third. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Bob MacIntyre's first-round 68 left him tied for third. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Bob MacIntyre made one of the best starts by a Scot in the Open Championship in nearly 20 years then insisted he can keep himself in the mix on his major debut at Royal Portrush.

The 22-year-old left-hander from Oban twice held the outright lead in the first round of the event’s 148th edition as he produced some sparkling golf on the County Antrim coast.

Illuminated by an eagle-2 from 40 feet at the fifth, he opened with a three-under-par 68 – 11 shots better than pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy – to end the day sitting two shots off the lead in joint third.

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“I was taking memories from everything walking round,” said a smiling MacIntyre, the pride and joy of Glencruitten Golf Club. “I just kept glancing at the leaderboards and thinking: ‘Can we win this?’”

A fist bump between Bob McIntyre, left, and Andew 'Beef' Johnston. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/GettyA fist bump between Bob McIntyre, left, and Andew 'Beef' Johnston. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty
A fist bump between Bob McIntyre, left, and Andew 'Beef' Johnston. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Asked if he can, the 2015 Scottish Amateur champion replied with a tone of confidence rather than cockiness: “I think so. I just need to keep putting myself into a position to do so. Come Sunday on the back nine, if you’ve got that chance, that’s the way I play golf – I keep going at it.”

It was the best start in the game’s oldest major by a player flying the Saltire since Paul Lawrie was joint second after an opening 65 in 2012 at Royal Lytham, where, coincidentally, Colin Montgomerie was 
the last Scot to lead the Open outright at the end of the first day after he shot the same score in 2001.

“It was a brilliant day all around and I enjoyed every bit of it,” added MacIntyre, who was one of four Scots to graduate from the Challenge Tour last season and is riding high in the Race to Dubai on the main circuit this year on the back of two second-placed finishes in successive events.

“This opportunity has come faster than I ever thought. I was expecting to have another year on the Challenge Tour. But life’s a rollercoaster – and we’ve just got to keep riding it.”

On a morning of showers, MacIntyre first topped the leaderboard just before 10am after making that eagle from just off the green at the driveable fifth to move to four-under and he was back there just over an hour later.

“Once I eagled the fifth, I was talking to Greg [Milne, his caddie], saying: ‘Look, we’re leading The Open’. But we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves just now.

“It’s about jockeying in position. It’s 72 holes. We’ve only played 18. So I want to be in position come Sunday afternoon. That’s what I plan on doing. Hopefully we can do that.”

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While some young professionals prefer to start out with older and more experienced caddies, MacIntyre is delighted to have Milne, a young Irishman who is a rookie himself on the European Tour, on his bag.

The Scot credits the influence of Milne for his relaxed demeanour on the course which was evident here as he marched down the first fairway grinning from ear to ear in a group that also included Andrew “Beef” Johnston and American Kyle Stanley.

“One of the things is Greg. He’s a big part in it,” acknowledged MacIntyre.

“When we walk down the fairways, we’re not talking golf. We’re talking anything. He’s into his hurling, I’m into my shinty. We just talk about absolutely anything. And also today ‘Beef’ was a big help, just kind of laughing, when the crowds erupted for him. It’s been brilliant and I’ll just keep enjoying it.”

His good start was a perfect way to bounce back from a rare missed cut this season in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance, where MacIntyre played with McIlroy and Rickie Fowler in the marquee group in the first two rounds.

“It was huge,” he said of that exciting experience. “Even doing all the media stuff. I wasn’t used to it. Even watching how those guys go around the golf course helped me out there today – and helped Greg, as well.

“I stepped on that tee with Rory and Rickie last week and I was just thinking: ‘Oh, no, just get this thing going forward’. That was more nerve-wracking than today, a hundred per cent. But you’ve just got to learn from these things. And I feel that’s what I’m doing.”

Refreshingly, MacIntyre is his own man, having already made some decisions that he felt were best for him. For instance, he turned down the chance to play in the Dunhill Links Championship in 2017 to focus on getting himself ready for the European Tour Qualifying School and won the Sahara Kuwait Championship on the MENA Tour in just his second start in the paid ranks.

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Then, in the build up to this event, he scrubbed his name from a practice tee that was set to see him play with defending champion Francesco Molinari because Ian Poulter added his name to it and he wanted to keep things as low key as possible.

“It’s about preparing for what’s next,” said MacIntyre, who still stays at home with his mum and dad, Carol and Dougie, both of whom were in the large crowd enjoying his dream debut.

“Going on the MENA Tour prepared me for Q-School. I was successful on Q-School, so that gave me confidence. Everything from the Challenge Tour on, it was asking: ‘Right, can you compete in the Challenge Tour to try to win it.? You keep snowballing.

“And last week prepared me for this week. Everything that’s happened just now has prepared me for the next thing. There’s still more things to see and prepare for. And I just have to take that as it comes.”

While Johnston had received the biggest roar from the crowd on the first tee, he admitted that MacIntyre had deserved the plaudits by the time they finished. “I thought he was great, very impressed and he’s a good lad,” said the Englishman. “We had a laugh. It was like he was playing at his local course with his mates.”

Johnston, who is two over, now knows where that course is, adding in reply to being asked if he knew where Oban was: “He said it’s basically about level with Edinburgh, so just keep heading west from there until you hit water.”