PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND – Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods endured miserable first rounds at the British Open on Thursday with American J.B. Holmes ending in the lead after shooting a 5-under-par 66 at Royal Portrush.
McIlroy disappointed the home support with the home favorite carding an 8-over-par 79, while a stiff-looking Woods was nothing like the player who won the Masters in April as he labored to 7-over.
All eyes were on McIlroy as the Open returned to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years, but the buzz around his appearance on course quickly disappeared with a sickening quadruple bogey at the first hole.
The four-time major champion ended his day knowing he will need a stellar second round merely to make the halfway cut.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry was the clubhouse leader for a couple of hours after a 4-under-par 67 on a day of wind and squally showers, mixed with dazzling sunshine.
“I took my chances when I got them early on,” said Lowry.
“At the start of my back nine, I missed a few chances. But look, I think 4-under is a great score on that course and I’ll take it any day.”
His score was later overtaken by Holmes, who handled the course with confidence despite a bogey on the first.
“I hit it great. I didn’t miss too many shots. When I did I missed them in the right spot. I putted well. Stuck to our game plan and just executed about as perfectly as I could do it,” he said.
A large group on two back included world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who made an ominously good start with a tidy performance that was bogey-free until a wayward drive at the 17th.
Koepka, seeking to complete one of the greatest major championship years after going second, first and second at the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S. Open, was guided around Portrush by caddie Ricky Elliott, who hails from the area.
“He just tells me where to hit it and I go from there,” Koepka said of Elliott.
“The game plan’s pretty concrete. It’s actually quite easy. I really don’t have to do much thinking. I just go out there and play.”
Spaniard Jon Rahm, viewed by many experts as a title contender, was in the group two shots back of Holmes after missing a five foot par putt on the 18th.
Other leading names did not enjoy their opening rounds at the last major of the year.
Defending champion Francesco Molinari of Italy struggled to a 3-over 74, former winner Phil Mickelson shot 76.
McIlroy once scored 61 around Portrush as a teenager, but began his challenge for the Claret Jug he won in 2014 in calamitous fashion.