Veteran American JB Holmes leads The Open by one stroke after a superb round of 66 on a memorable day that included a hole-in-one and a back-nine record at Royal Portrush.
The Open returned to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years in front of a raucous, sell-out crowd and it was Holmes who made the most of variable conditions to lead overnight.
The 37-year-old suffered something of an inauspicious start when he bogeyed the 1st but birdies at 2, 3 and 5 sent him out in 34 before three further birdies on the back nine – including one at 18 – set a target no-one else in the field could match.
“I was very confident going in,” said Holmes, who finished third at Royal Troon in 2016. “I felt like I was hitting it really well and we had a good plan, a good line on the golf course.
“You don't expect to shoot that, but I'm not surprised.”
Holmes has a one-stroke advantage over Shane Lowry – who carded an impressive 67 that could have been even lower after a number of near misses on the back nine – with a slew of players then at -3 – including major winners Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson and Sergio Garcia.
Fittingly, the first Open to held in Northern Ireland since 1951 saw the first tee shot struck by Portrush resident and 2011 Champion Golfer Darren Clarke, who belted it down the fairway and went on to birdie the first.
A rollercoaster round eventually saw the 50-year-old finish at level par, the same score as Amateur Champion James Sugrue who played alongside Clarke, but Northern Ireland’s other two golfers fared less well.
Portrush native Graeme McDowell looked in good shape a three-under through 14 but then dropped five strokes over the final four holes, including a triple bogey at the last, to end on +2.
However, that was nothing compared to the disaster 2014 Champion Golfer Rory McIlroy endured – a quadruple bogey on the 1st and a triple bogey on the 18th the lowlights of an eight-over round of 79.
New Zealander Ryan Fox made six birdies in the closing seven holes to set a back-nine record score at The Open of 29, while Emiliano Grillo claimed the first hole-in-one at The Open since 2016 when he aced the 13th.