My First Open
My First Open
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Rory McIlroy

When Seve Ballesteros announced his retirement and waved a tearful goodbye on the eve of The Open of 2007, it brought the curtain down on a glorious career.

A three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, two-time Masters winner and part of four victorious Ryder Cup teams, he made magic happen with a club in hand and captured the hearts of millions across the world.

In a 33-year career, he won 91 titles but it was at Carnoustie where it truly began – just like Rory McIlroy 32 years later.

Like Ballesteros in 1975, the fresh-faced 18-year-old from Northern Ireland announced himself to the world on Scotland’s east coast, producing one of the finest rounds the historic course has seen.

Bold and fearless, McIlroy mirrored a young Seve. A daring pitcher, accurate putter and thumping driver, he already had the game to challenge the best.

As one great career ended, another began.

Immediate impact

Before his first tee shot, McIlroy was an unknown to many but, to the few who had seen him, it was a case of when, not if, he would make a statement.

And luckily for those in attendance in 2007, it was at Carnoustie, where he stormed to the Silver Medal – the prize given to the leading amateur.

“Every year, there are good amateurs who come through but very few of them have star quality. He clearly had star quality. He had a swagger and he was good enough,” said Peter Dawson, former Chief Executive of the R&A.

McIlroy arrived at a time when British and Irish golf was in rude health. Just a year before, Ian Poulter and Darren Clarke were at the heart of a commanding Ryder Cup win for Team Europe.

Padraig Harrington would go on to win three majors in two years, including The Open, while Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were rivalling Tiger Woods for the number one ranking.

Yet McIlroy outplayed them all on day one as he shot a three-under par 68, to leave himself just three shots off the lead.

Had he sunk makeable birdie attempts at 15 and 16, it could have been so much better but he still finished one stroke clear of two-time defending champion Woods and 11 ahead of mentor Nick Faldo.

Those 18 holes catapulted him into the limelight, propelled him onto the back pages and, ultimately, changed his life. Nothing was ever the same again for the quiet teenager from Holywood.

“It was just like a chill down the back of my spine with the ovation I got. I soaked up the atmosphere and really enjoyed it,” he said after his round.

“I’m knackered. It’s a pretty special feeling to say you shot one better than Tiger!”

Silver secured

Sergio Garcia topped the leaderboard overnight after a superb six-under 65 but all the attention was on McIlroy – the outstanding amateur in the field.

Woods, a three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, was the only player to have won both the Silver Medal and The Open.

But it was clear even then that McIlroy would have a strong chance of emulating him. He clinched the Silver Medal inside two days at Carnoustie, despite a second round that was far from perfect as he stumbled to a 76.

He made the cut by three shots and was the only amateur to reach Saturday, meaning he joined Woods by being confirmed as the leading amateur before the weekend.

“I came into this and made the cut, and that's proved that I can compete at this level. There's great players here and for me to be up there is very encouraging for me,” he said.

“Hopefully I can go on and shoot a couple of good scores over the last two days. The Silver Medal was the goal and that would be a great achievement.”

Super Saturday

Spaniard Garcia, playing for compatriot Ballesteros, led the field at the halfway stage by two shots from Korea’s KJ Choi, while Alastair Forsyth and Lee Westwood were at the head of the British charge.

McIlroy was back at one-over par and partnered with American Arron Oberholser but the weather, such a key feature of any Open, took a turn for the worse.

That is where links golf separates the men from the boys and McIlroy rose to the fore. With the wind and rain whipping into his face, he stood tall – making key putts, hitting fairways and scrambling out of bunkers.

Nevertheless, he was left frustrated with a two-over par round of 73 - even if playing partner Oberholser was watching in amazement.

“I watched him hit his opening tee shot and thought: ‘man, who is this kid?’,” he said.

“I remember the fourth hole specifically. I hit a driver and seven-iron into the green. He hit driver and I thought: ‘that’s a different flight that I haven’t seen from many guys before’.

“Then, we get up there and he is 15 to 20 yards past my drive.

“I could overhear the chat with his caddie. Rory was asked: ‘do you want to hit a soft eight?’. He was 145 yards out. It was grey, it was cold, it was windy. It was into the wind. He said: ‘no, nine iron.’

“He took the nine, put the ball back in his stance and the shot made a sound I’ll never forget. At that point, I’d only ever heard one player made that sound with their irons: Tiger Woods.”

Final flourish

McIlroy had dropped well out of overall contention ahead of the final day and much of the focus switched away from him as Harrington chased down Garcia at the front.

Still, the Northern Irishman finished the week with a level-par 72 and tied for 42nd overall, a fine achievement for an amateur.

“Hopefully, it’s the shape of things to come,” he said.

“I think I’m getting better all the time, progressing as a player. Hopefully, I’ve got a few more Open Championships in me.

“It’s a great performance, first major, first Open, and hopefully I can go on to bigger and better things.”

He duly delivered. Months afterwards he turned professional and, just four years later, he lifted his first major at the 2011 US Open, the first of four to date.

But the best was still to come. Seven years after he took game by storm at Carnoustie, he finally got his hands on the Claret Jug with a dominant display at Royal Liverpool to realise his dream and become Champion Golfer of the Year.

This summer, McIlroy returns home, to Royal Portrush on Antrim’s north coast where Northern Ireland will host The Open for the first time in 68 years.

He is no longer the fresh-faced teenager, but one of the best in the world.