The Open: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods facing missed cuts as JB Holmes leads
By Keith Jackson at Royal Portrush
Last Updated: 19/07/19 9:54pm
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are staring at early exits from The 148th Open as JB Holmes emerged as the first-round leader at Royal Portrush.
After an emotional Darren Clarke got the Championship underway on its much-heralded return to Portrush for the first time in 68 years, the two biggest drawcards in golf both struggled in the changeable conditions and ended the day perilously close to the bottom of the leaderboard.
McIlroy made the worst possible start on Thursday when he pulled his opening tee shot out-of-bounds, smashing an unfortunate spectator's mobile phone en-route, and he went on to make a quadruple-bogey eight before closing out a 79 with a triple-bogey at the last.
Woods was only one shot better off and appeared to be battling a sore back once again, but there were no such problems for Holmes as he recovered from an opening bogey to snatch the outright lead ahead of Shane Lowry with his sixth birdie of the round at the last.
Lowry went out in the eighth group of the morning and enjoyed the best start of his Open career, carding five birdies and just one blemish in a 67 which earned him the clubhouse lead for the majority of the day, until Holmes surpassed the Irishman shortly after 7pm.
With the rain-softened Dunluce links offering plenty of birdie chances as well as some card-wreckers, a remarkable 13 players opened with three-under 68s, a group which included world No 1 Brooks Koepka, the English trio of Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood, and Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm.
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Koepka, the dominant force in majors since 2017, put himself in position to challenge for a fifth as he cruised to four under par with two to play before dropping his only shot of the round at the 17th, where Webb Simpson had tarnished an error-free day and also bogeyed the last to match the earlier 68 of Alex Noren.
Double Irish Open champion Rahm looked set to sleep on the overnight lead when he capped a sublime, outward 31 with three consecutive birdies and, after a bogey at 11, he got back to five under with a neat up-and-down for birdie at the 11th.
But he faltered down the stretch and followed a bogey at 15 with two scrambled pars before another wayward approach to the last cost him a further shot as he fell into the large group on three under which also featured New Zealander Ryan Fox, son of All Blacks legend, Grant.
Fox set a new Open record when he covered the back nine in a blistering 29 strokes with birdies at six of the last seven holes in a stunning recovery from a wayward outward half of 39.
Justin Rose, joint runner-up at Carnoustie last year, made a steady start with a three-birdie 69, while the likes of Eddie Pepperell and three former champions in Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen all fired 70s as 41 players finished in red numbers.
McIlroy rues dreadful start
Rory McIlroy put on a brave face after firing an eight-over 79 in the first round at Portrush
McIlroy and Woods, however, need to have several red numbers on their second-round scorecards on Friday if they are to grace the Portrush fairways over the weekend.
Home favourite McIlroy looked visibly shaken after his horrendous first hole and soon dropped another stroke at the third, although he did lift his spirits with birdies at seven and nine before a nice run of pars ended abruptly with a five at the short 16th, where he carelessly missed a tap-in from a few inches away to fritter away another shot.
He needed two attempts to get out of the thick grass on 18 and scrapped his way to the untidiest of sevens, while Woods dropped five shots in as many holes in a torrid end to an outward 41, and hopes of a back-nine fightback were scuppered by yet another blemish at the 10th.
He did raise a rueful smile when he birdied the 15th, after another bogey at 14, but he gave the shot back at the last to slip back to seven over and in a tie for 144th place.