Rory McIlroy off to fantastic start at St Andrews in 'fiddliest' Open test he's faced
American Cameron Young set the pace in the 150th Open with a polished eight-under-par 64 on the Old Course at St Andrews, but he’s got McIlroy breathing down his neck.
The Northern Irishman had been due to defend the Claret Jug here seven years ago only to be ruled out after suffering an untimely ankle injury in a football kickabout.
Due to a combination of the R&A wanting to host this milestone edition at St Andrews and it then being pushed back by 12 months because of the Covid pandemic, he’s had to be patient for another chance here.
Now that it’s finally come around, McIlroy has found himself in the “fiddliest Open that I’ve played” due to the Fife venue being firm and fast thanks to Mother Nature’s hand in the build up.
By his own admission, McIlroy has struggled a bit with that type of test in the past, but, on the evidence of his opening day’s work, maybe not any more.
“Yeah, fantastic start,” said the 33-year-old of an opening 66 - his best start in this event in eight years - that contained seven birdies, including three on the spin on the front nine, and a solitary dropped shot caused by “trying to be a little bit too cute” at the 13th.
“Just sort of what you hope will happen when you're starting off your week. I did everything that you're supposed to do around St Andrews. I birdied the holes that are birdieable.
“And I made pars at the holes where you're sort of looking to make a par and move to the next tee. And didn't really put myself out of position too much.”
This is McIlroy’s 13th appearance in the game’s oldest major, but his description of this week’s test had American golf writers furiously checking to see what he’d meant by “fiddliest”.
“It's the only way I can really describe it,” he added. “It's just really fiddly out there. Carnoustie was firm in 2018 and the 18th fairway was like a runaway, but it wasn't like this.
“It’s around the greens here and just all the slopes and undulations and everything. I think as the tournament progresses, you're going to get some funny bounces and it's going to test your patience at times.
“And fiddly hasn't really been my forte over the years, but I'm hopefully going to make it my forte this week.”
It’s just under eight years since McIlroy landed the most recent of his four major victories. This is the third major in a row, though, that he’s burst out of the blocks in the game’s showpiece events and he’s determined to kick on this time.
“I need to go out tomorrow and back up what I just did today,” he declared. “I think that's important to do.
“I've seen the golf course now in tournament play and tournament conditions - it’s not going to change that much, I don’t think, between today and tomorrow - and know what to expect. Tomorrow's an important one, just to go out and back up what I've done today.”
Playing in the same group as McIlroy, Genesis Scottish Open champion Xander Schauffele opened with a 69, but it was an up-and-down day for 2021 winner Collin Morikawa as he had to settle for a 72.
Young, a 25-year-old from New York State, marked his Open debut with a bogey-free effort that was illuminated by three straight birdies around turn.
“I think we worked our way around the golf course really well,” said the leader, who lost to Justin Thomas in a play-off in the PGA Championship in May. “I don't think that I played a perfect round of golf. I just scored really well.”
In last week’s Scottish Open, Young shot rounds of 76-77 to miss the cut by ten shots at The Renaissance Club. “Last week was hard,” he said. “You're jet-lagged. We played in some pretty difficult conditions.
“That was one of those weeks that you have to just take away from it when you can. I didn't feel like I played horrible. I just scored really poorly.
“Yeah, you start to feel a little better earlier this week and have some more time to prepare, and I think it can change drastically between what people feel like last week and this week.”
On a day when the R&A threw in some interesting new hole locations to add a layer of protection, Australian Cameron Smith equalled his best opening-day score in 25 major appearances with a 67.
“It’s nice to get off to a hot start any week, really, but especially so here,” said the Players’ champion, who is making his fifth appearance in the event. “Due to how it's going to get really firm and really fast, it's almost going to be like holding on I think on the weekend.”
Englishman Barclay Brown, one of six amateurs in the field, enjoyed a day to remember as he shot a 68 to sit in a big group that includes world No 1 Scottie Scheffler and two players who previously held that position, Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson.
“Very pleased with myself,” declared the 21-year-old, who secured his spot in the field by winning a final qualifying event by three shots at Hollinwell.
Bryson DeChambeau, who had been tipped to bring the Old Course to its knees, is handily-placed after a 69 but admitted the firm and fast test had forced him to be more strategic than simply using brute strength. "There's no way to bomb and gouge it out this week,” said the 2020 US Open champion.
As rounds stretched to six hours later in the day, Dumfries-born Robert Dinwiddie came in with a 67.
The Wandsworth-based 39-year-old, who came through another of the qualifiers at Fairmont St Andrews, was on course to match Young’s bogey-free start before missing a short par putt at the 16th.
But, at around 10.10pm, he almost holed a monster putt from off the green at the last as he closed with a birdie.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.