- Open Championship
Flawless McIlroy storms into early lead at Hoylake
It was vintage Rory McIlroy. Vintage Rory McIlroy for day one, that is.
After storming to an opening round of 66 to take the Open Championship clubhouse lead at six under par, McIlroy is now a combined 57-under for his opening rounds this season.
In contrast, he is nine-over par for second rounds and McIlroy's focus will switch as Friday looms.
Open Championship LIVE
But Thursday has been a whole new ballgame for McIlroy this year, and he took full advantage of the benign conditions, rolling home birdies at two, five and six to reach the turn in 32, before adding three more at 10, 12 and 16.
McIlroy told ESPN on Tuesday that Hoylake's par-5s "are key" and "they are four really good opportunities to make birdies", and he backed it up with a good showing on the long holes today, picking up shots . He will leave the 18th disappointed after he came out of the greenside bunker slightly heavy, leaving plenty to do for birdie.
McIlroy was understandably in great spirits when he came in for his post-round press conference, even joking how, when he took his cap off at 16, one spectator shouted: "Get a haircut!"
He added: "You don't get a better atmosphere than at Open Championships and the crowds here are always so great.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more out there today. I stuck to my gameplan, tried to take advantage of the par-5s, tried to pick up a couple more shots, and was able to do that. I hit a couple of loose shots out there, but for the most part, my golf ball was under control and I'm very happy."
On his Friday woes, McIlroy is determined not to make any changes.
"I'm playing well and swinging the club really nicely," he said. "I won't approach it any differently and if I can continue to do that, hopefully I'll have another good round of golf.
"It depends on how the conditions are. I think they're forecasting a little more wind for tomorrow so I'll go out there at six-under par and try and get to seven. When I get to seven I'll try to get to eight, and just keep going on like that. I'll just take it one shot at a time."
He even found time to discuss his favourite football team, Manchester United, and new manager Louis van Gaal, who incidentally was giving his first press conference as Old Trafford boss at around the same time.
"It will be good to see what Van Gaal has to say and who he's thinking of bringing in," McIlroy said. "We have a good chance of winning the league this year."
It was not, however, vintage Tiger Woods. But there were glimpses of it during his three-under par opening round of 69.
Woods, champion here in 2006, looked rusty as he opened with two sloppy bogeys. But flashes of his former self started to appear with a hat-trick of birdies from 11, including a stunning tee shot at the par-3 15th which left little more than a tap-in.
A setback with bogey at 14 was short-lived, as another birdie two was followed by another gain at the par-5 16th. Like McIlroy, Woods' approach at 18 trickled into the trap, all-but ending hopes of reaching four-under - but it was an impressive showing from a man who has played just two rounds of competitive golf since March.
"I knew I could do it," Woods said. "That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was stronger, more explosive the more days I played.
"I'm only going to get better from that point. And I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again. And those are all positive things."
McIlroy leads Matteo Manassero by one after the Italian hotshot carded seven birdies and two bogeys to end day one at five-under, while a clutch of players including Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka are a shot further back after four-under 68s.
Also in that pack are the Molinari siblings, Francesco and Edoardo - meaning the three Italians in the field this week have ended day one at a combined 13-under par.
"I saw the leaderboard," said Francesco, the younger of the Molinaris. "But it's a tough course, so you have to focus on what you are doing rather than the others are doing - even if it's your brother."
Alongside Woods at three-under include early clubhouse leader Robert Karlsson, who two years ago turned down his spot at The Open because he had the yips on a full swing, and Rickie Fowler.
John Singleton, the factory worker from nearby Birkenhead, had a huge following for his major championship debut. Singleton, whose boss gave all his colleagues the day off so they could come to Hoylake and watch, showed sublime touch around the greens on the front nine. But it all went south with a double-bogey at 12, with further drops at 13, 14, 16 and 17 leaving the forklift truck driver a lot to do on Friday.
Follow Alex Perry on Twitter from Royal Liverpool at @AlexPerryESPN