|McIlroy won the US Open by a stunning eight strokes last month© AFP Adrian Dennis|
SANDWICH (AFP) – (AFP) – Rory McIlroy’s quest for a US/British Open double got off to a stumbling start at Royal St George’s here on Thursday.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland won the US Open by a stunning eight strokes last month to make the move from golfing prodigy to superstar status, and in the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, he is the biggest draw at the 140th Open.
McIlroy was watched by a sizeable and admiring gallery as he set off at 9:09 am in the company of 2002 champion Ernie Els of South Africa and American hope Rickie Fowler.
In cool, cloudy conditions, with just a slight breeze blowing, the Ulsterman, seeking to become the youngest winner of the Open since 1893, clobbered his opening drive safely up the fairway of the 444-yard, par four opening hole.
|Fact file and illustration of the Royal St George’s Golf Club© AFP Graphic|
But after over-hitting his approach, McIlroy three-putted from just off the back of the green.
He then overhit his tee-shot at the long, par-three third and again needed three from the back of the green to drop to two over where he stayed through six.
It was the first time McIlroy had played competitively since winning in the United States, but he insists he can cope with the spotlight as he attempts to become the first player to win the US and British Opens since Woods in 2000.
I’m the sort of person that likes a little bit of a buzz in the atmosphere around the group and I’ll enjoy it. I’ll definitely enjoy it, he said.
Last time I played competitive golf I had a pretty big crowd following me.
|Luke Donald (pictured) will be aiming to become the first English winner of the British Open since Nick Faldo in 1992© AFP Peter Muhly|
Ahead of him, Thomas Bjorn provided the headlines by getting to three under through 13 holes which gave him a one-stroke lead.
The 41-year-old Dane is best known for blowing a three stroke lead with four to play the last time the Open was held here in 2003.
He was only sixth reserve as recently as last week before a spate of withdrawals, but was making the most of his call-up on Monday when Vijay Singh pulled out through injury.
After saving par from over the green on the downwind first, Bjorn holed from 14 feet for a birdie on the second and almost repeated the trick from twice the distance on the third.
The former Ryder Cup player then saved par on the next two holes with good chips to three and six feet respectively, missed from eight feet for birdie on the sixth but holed from five feet for birdie on the par-five seventh.
|Germany’s Martin Kaymer, seen here putting during the practice rounds© AFP Adrian Dennis|
A stroke back at two under through 16 holes were American veteran Marc Calcavecchia, the winner at Troon in 1989, and Spanish Ryder Cup star Miguel Angel Jimenez after nine.
World No.1 Luke Donald seeking to provide the first English win in the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 looked on song with a birdie at the third.
At 7,211 yards and a par of 70, bumpy, quirky Royal St George’s on a flat stretch of Kent coastline is a tough test for the world’s best and one that will get even tougher if the offshore winds blast inland over the next four days.
You never know what the weather will do, you can get the right side of the draw or the wrong side of the draw, but you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you, was how England’s Ian Poulter put it.
In the absence of Woods, four-time major winner Phil Mickelson will be expected to lead the way for the Americans, seeking to end a record run of five Majors without a US winner.
He had a mid-afternoon tee-off time in the company of defending champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and reigning PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.