RORY McILROY is just three shots off the clubhouse lead at the 145th Open Championship following an impressive opening round at Royal Troon.
The world number four began his round with three pars, but four birdies in five holes saw him make the turn in four-under-par and secure him a share of the lead.
A double bogey on the 13th and a bogey on the 14th saw him slip back down the field but McIlroy rallied, sinking a birdie on the next, followed by three successive pars, to record a two-under-par 69.
McIlroy is in a better position than American prodigy Jordan Spieth, who had an unremarkable opening 71, a level-par round featuring three birdies and three bogeys.
“I probably hit it as well as anybody in the field and shot five, six shots over the leader, so that normally doesn’t happen for me,” Spieth said.
“That’s normally my really low round. So if I can keep my rhythm and my swing as we lead into these tougher condition days, the next couple days, I should be able to make up some strokes.”
With rain and wind forecast for Friday and Saturday, world number one Jason Day also has ground to make up after a two-over-par 73 to start.
The Australian birdied the third and long sixth but had four bogeys, including at the Postage Stamp and at the last.
American Patrick Reed is the early clubhouse leader after carding a five-under-par 66, and sits one shot clear of Justin Thomas and Steve Stricker.
England’s Justin Rose is among a large group of golfers just one shot further back on three-under-par.
Pádraig Harrington posted a solid one-under-par round 70 while early-starter Darren Clarke carded an even-par 71.
Paul Dunne finished on a disappointing six-over-par, which included seven dropped shots in his final eight holes. Shane Lowry also had a day to forget, finishing up with a seven-over-par 78.
Graeme McDowell was among the day’s later starters.
In a week that saw McIlroy in the headlines for his comments on the merits of having golf at the Olympics, the 27-year-old let his golf do the talking at Royal Troon.
McIlroy, who won the Claret Jug at Hoylake in 2014 before missing last year’s Open due to an ankle injury sustained playing football, notched his first birdie of the morning at the par-five fourth.
He made further shots at the sixth, seventh and short eighth holes and narrowly missed making another birdie at the ninth after hitting the flag with his approach.
But his early scoring was curtailed on the back nine, like so many others before him; a three-putt on the 13th seeing him card a double bogey, compounded with another dropped shot on the 14th.
But the Holywood golfer recovered well to finish up relatively happy with his efforts and on a competitive score heading into the second round.
Elsewhere, Louis Oosthuizen got the first hole-in-one of this year’s tournament. South African Oosthuizen, the Open champion at St Andrews in 2010, holed his tee shot at the short 14th to take him back to even par for his round.