From the 2nd to the 18th, Rory McIlroy’s opening round at The 151st Open contained acts of escapism that would have made Harry Houdini blush.
The Northern Irishman’s bid to repeat his victory here in 2014 was always going to be among the most fascinating subplots of the week and the spectators who flocked to follow his every move were rewarded with plenty of moments which illustrated what a magnetic force he is.
McIlroy rarely does things the easy way and the tone was set when he sent his second tee shot a long way right, back towards where he had taken his first – which also veered into the rough.
He had to head the other side of the ropes for his approach but dropped a magnificent shot to within three feet and tapped in for birdie to raucous greenside cheers.
McIlroy paid for his next mistake, a visit to a greenside bunker leading to a dropped shot on 4, and a short putt bouncing out at 8 meant he arrived at the turn with ground to make up.
His card read two-over at the 13th tee, seven shots adrift of the lead, and there was a very real risk he would leave himself too much to do over the next three days.
But the four-time major winner is never too far from a hot streak and consecutive birdies restored parity before a trademark rollercoaster of emotions down the last.
His approach landed right at the face of a greenside bunker to which ‘best avoided’ would be an understatement and his first attempt at getting out sideways landed back in the sand.
The lie was kinder – though not by much – and McIlroy was forced into an unorthodox stance, his left leg resting at an angle on top of the bunker as he attempted a shot which many would not even have considered.
McIlroy’s gamble paid off, a remarkable wedge landing 10 feet from the pin before a putt which was sunk to keep him very much in the conversation.
A card showing level par barely does justice to the twists and turns McIlroy’s round contained and he was pleased to come through it still in the hunt.
“I wouldn’t have been too happy walking off 18 after a bogey, especially after the two shots I hit in there,” he said.
“When you hit it into a bunker, you are riding your luck at that point and hoping it’s not against one of those faces. You are just hoping to make par and get out of there. From two-over through 12, I am pleased to get back to even for the day.”
McIlroy goes again from 9:58am on Friday alongside Jon Rahm and Justin Rose, both of whom finished three-over-par, and has the opportunity to put pressure on those in front of him.
“Hopefully I’ve got my eye in now and I can build on it in the next few days,” he added.
“It wasn’t the easiest of days but I’m still right in there. If I come out in the morning and shoot something in the 60s, I will be right in the mix.”