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Rory McIlroy carded a superb six under par 66 to surge to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
The 25 year-old from Northern Ireland will start the second round one shot ahead of Italy’s Matteo Manassero and two in front of Australia’s Adam Scott, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Americans Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari.
Charismatic American Rickie Flower finished the day in a share of tenth place on three under par 69 alongside a large group which also included Robert Karlsson, Marc Leishman, Koumei Oda, Boo Weekley, Yoshinobu Tsukada, Jimmy Walker, Hideki Matsuyama as well as a resurgent Tiger Woods, who started his first round with consecutive bogeys but was soon displaying the sort of form that enabled him to win the Claret Jug over the same course back in 2006.
McIlroy was at his best as he carded his lowest opening round at The Open since his 63 at St Andrews in 2010 but he still might not sleep easily overnight given his recent record in second rounds at prestigious Tour events.
The double Major winner has carded disappointing second round scores at the Masters, the Wells Fargo Championship, the Players Championship and the Memorial already this season and only last week he followed an opening 64 with a 78 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.
McIlroy admits to being concerned about this run but does not expect a repeat in this Championship.
“I had a bad Friday afternoon at Augusta and just made the cut. Then I started horrifically at Quail Hollow and did the same at Sawgrass. That’s like three tournaments in a row so that’s when I started to be conscious of it.
“I was three over par on Friday at (the BMW PGA) at Wentworth but managed to get it back but the Memorial (where he shot 63, 78) was obviously the biggest one. However, there’s nothing really to it. It might just be about higher expectations going out on Friday after a low round on Thursday so I’m going to try to put those expectations aside and take one hole at a time.
“I expect to stick to my game plan and hit good shots,” he added. “I know that if I execute my game plan, the low numbers are there for me to shoot.”
McIlroy’s task is made all the more difficult as a result of the quality of the players in hot pursuit.
Manassero is still only 21 but he has already claimed four European Tour titles and is ideally placed to make his move after a 67 that included seven birdies and just two dropped shots
“It’s the perfect start,” said the Italian. “It was a really good round and I’m very pleased with it. I played solid and a few putts dropped.
“It’s also great to see Edoardo and Francesco up there. It would be fantastic to have a few Italians on the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.”
Scott squandered a few chances towards the end of his opening round but is likely to be a major factor over the weekend and the same can be said for Woods despite having played only two competitive rounds at the Quicken Loans event at Congressional Country Club since undergoing major back surgery before the Masters.