Expectation and Rory McIlroy go hand in hand. That’s always been the way.
As a result, the 33-year-old has developed broad shoulders to deal with the burden that comes with his immense talent - but the build-up to The 150th Open has felt different.
Not only has the Northern Irishman been in superb form this year, with top-10 finishes in all three majors, his previous Open at the home of golf provided reason for encouragement.
Back in 2010, McIlroy opened his quest for the Claret Jug with a sensational 63 as he ripped the Old Course apart to equal the then major record score en route to finishing third.
That proved to be the catalyst for a remarkable run of success in golf’s premier events, winning four majors before the age of 26 including The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014.
Injury meant he was unable to defend his title when the Championship was last played in St Andrews, forced to watch from home as Zach Johnson was crowned Champion Golfer.
So it was no surprise that McIlroy’s return to the Old Course for this milestone Open has created relentless buzz and hype for the potential end to his eight-year major drought.
If he was feeling the pressure, though, it certainly did not show. The bright yellow jumper he donned on the way to the 1st was not the outfit of a man looking to hide from the limelight.
Joined by defending Champion Golfer Collin Morikawa and world number 5 Xander Schauffele in the pick of the morning groups, McIlroy’s arrival for his 9.58am tee off was greeted by a huge ovation as the grandstands rapidly filled to watch the main attraction.
“Come on, Rory” was the cheer that relentlessly followed his every move, every shot as he navigated the front nine with the confidence of a player in control of his game.
The birdie putt from the back of the 1st green no doubt helped, ensuring he was in the red early on after deciding against attacking the dangerously placed pin with his approach.
McIlroy’s decision was only vindicated five hours later when 15-time major winner Tiger Woods found the burn with his second shot, resulting in a shock double-bogey.
In fact, playing percentage golf was the name of the game. The next three holes were all navigated comfortably, avoiding unnecessary risks as he reeled off consecutive pars.
As the groups bunched up around the tee of the par-5 5th, McIlroy looked completely at ease as he chatted with a journalist about his decision not to wear a hoodie for today’s round.
Patience and discipline are central to links golf - especially around the Old Course - and McIlroy displayed plenty of both before being rewarded with three straight birdies.
A beautifully judged flop shot left a tap-in birdie on the 5th while he dissected the fairway on the 6th and stuck his approach to seven feet for the most straightforward of birdies.
“They all want him to win it,” a marshal exclaimed as McIlroy stepped onto the 7th tee to another chorus of cheers. He was not wrong, the swell of support was relentless.
He proceeded to crush his drive down the middle of the fairway once again, pitch it to eight feet and roll in another birdie putt in almost identical fashion to the previous hole.
With momentum on his side and an enthusiastic grandstand behind him, McIlroy was clearly in the mood to shoot low and was frustrated with ‘only’ hitting the green on the 8th.
Par followed before he took out his driver for the very reachable 9th. “Surely that’s too much club”, whispered one fan. It wasn’t but he had to settle for another par and an outward 32.
Meanwhile, Schauffele and Morikawa were relegated to playing second fiddle for much of the front nine despite the former recovering from bogeying the 1st to go out in two-under.
The reigning champion was uncharacteristically inconsistent, with two birdies cancelling out two bogeys on the front before repeating that pattern again for a level-par 72.
Schauffele quietly went about his business and threatened to overshadow McIlroy with birdies on 12 and 14, only for a bogey on the notorious 17th to result in a three-under 69.
There was also a setback for McIlroy on the 13th, unable to capitalise on a moment of fortune after his approach avoided the bunker, but it was sandwiched by two more birdies.
An excellent up-and-down on the Road Hole saved par - a result McIlroy said he would gladly take earlier in the week - before he arrived on a wave of roars to the 18th tee.
He then put the icing on the cake in style on the last. An iron was enough to reach the green of the 356-yard hole before two-putting to post a six-under-par 66.
In many ways, it was an uneventful round from McIlroy - he even described it as “boring” after signing his card - but he will undoubtedly take that for his remaining three rounds.
This is a player at the peak of his powers right now. If he continues to nonchalantly shrug off the pressure, a second Claret Jug could be coming his way. Expectation, what expectation?