Round 1 notable notes: McIlroy bounces back
A marathon day at The Open is in the books, with Jordan Spieth headlining a trio of Americans sharing the lead. Here’s a recap of how some of the other big names fared during an opening round at Royal Birkdale that featured plenty of high scores despite plenty of sunshine:
Rory McIlroy rebounds from rough start. Coming off of back-to-back missed cuts, McIlroy again got out of the gates slowly by playing his first six holes in 5 over and at times appeared lost on the front nine. But the former Champion Golfer of the Year rallied a on his inward half, with birdies on three of his final four holes to post a 1-over 71. He’s still six shots back but no longer staring at the likely missed cut he seemed destined for midway through his round.
Brooks Koepka seeks an Open double. After breaking through at the U.S. Open, Koepka took a month off and promptly returned to action by shooting a 5-under 65 to snag a share of the lead. The score was the lowest opening-round effort ever in The Open by a reigning U.S. Open champ, and he looks to join Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones as the only players to win both events in the same summer.
Sergio Garcia likely won’t follow in Mark O’Meara’s footsteps. O’Meara famously lifted the Claret Jug in 1998 at Royal Birkdale just months after winning his first major at the Masters, but Garcia stumbled en route to an opening-round 73 as he looked to emulate the American’s major success. Garcia has finished T-6 or better at The Open each of the last three years, but that streak is now in dire jeopardy.
Tommy Fleetwood didn’t benefit from any hometown magic. The Southport native entered this week playing the best golf of his life and had plenty of fans supporting him, but he failed to record a single birdie during a 6-over 76. Fleetwood had finished T-10 or better in each of his last four worldwide starts but Birkdale got the best of him, as the Englishman turned in 4 over following a double bogey on the par-4 ninth hole.
Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler both treaded water. The duo each carded rounds of 1-over 71, equal to McIlroy’s effort but offering far less momentum. Johnson managed only one birdie in his first round since a missed cut at the U.S. Open, while Fowler’s stop-and-start afternoon featured four birdies against five bogeys.
Jon Rahm is in the mix after avoiding another penalty. Two weeks after he was absolved of mis-marking his ball at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Rahm appeared to have received a two-shot penalty on the 17th hole for inadvertently uprooting a plant near his ball in the rough. But with no video evidence to rely on, rules officials sided with Rahm’s explanation that the plant in question was not on his swing path and did not improve his lie, therefore turning a 1-over 71 back into a 1-under 69.
There was no opening-round stunner for Phil Mickelson. One year after his magical 63 at Royal Troon, Mickelson was unable get things on track at Royal Birkdale. The 2013 Champion Golfer of the Year failed to make a single birdie, the first time he has done so in a major since the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open. Mickelson shot a 3-over 73 and is now in danger of his first missed cut at The Open since 2012.