Rory McIlroy made a fantastic start to the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake, shooting a six-under par round of 66 to take the clubhouse lead.
He hit his iron shots fantastically well and combined a sensible amount of conservative driving with some terrific aggression while playing well around the greens.
There were some frustrating moments with a few putts missed, but he could barely have asked for better as he looks to take the win on Sunday.
Here is a look at the live leaderboard after the 25-year-old's completed first round:
McIlroy comes into the tournament off the back of his first Scottish Open appearance in five years last week, which saw him finish tied for 14th on seven under par, nine off Justin Rose's winning score.
His second round of 78 at Royal Aberdeen saw him fall off the pace after an opening course-record 64. Poor Friday performances have become a regular feature of his game this year—one he will hope to avoid this weekend at Royal Liverpool.
He has won just once so far this year—at Wentworth in May on the European Tour—and has just one top-10 Open Championship finish from 2010 at St Andrews.
The par-fives are a big key this week. If you look back at ’06, I think Tiger played the par-fives in 14 under par. So the majority of his scoring was done on the par-fives. There are four really good opportunities to make birdies out there. And there’s a couple of tough holes on the back nine, if you can just sort of make par there you’re going to do well.
An opening par on the first after missing a six-footer for birdie was followed by a magnificent approach to the second, which he holed, per ByTheMin Golf:
Rory to the second (inches) Predicting -1 after 2nd.— ByTheMin Golf (@ByTheMinGolf) July 17, 2014
Rory taps in.— ByTheMin Golf (@ByTheMinGolf) July 17, 2014
As with the first, McIlroy missed a birdie opportunity at three but then did well to salvage par on the fourth having played his approach short of the green.
Back-to-back birdies followed with a four at the par-five fifth—surely gratifying for him given his pre-tournament comments—and then a two at the sixth having holed a five-footer, and he joined the leaders at three under.
He looked in fine form—as he often has this year in opening rounds—with his iron play particularly impressive, per the PGA Tour's Charlie Kane:
Dottie Pepper said McIlroy did not practice well at all this morning. Hasn't translated to course. Near perfect iron play from the co-leader— Charlie Kane (@CharlieKane_) July 17, 2014
The two-time major winner continued to put together a great opening round as—having gone out in 32—he picked up another birdie at the second par five of the day on the opening hole of the back nine to return to the tied lead, per the BBC's Kevin Kilbane:
He finally claimed the outright lead at the 12th, holing well from 10 feet to move to five under, per golf journalist Stephanie Wei:
And there you go!--Rory McIlroy drains a 10-footer for birdie on 12 to take the outright lead at -5 at #theopen— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) July 17, 2014
ESPN's Alex Perry played the role of the harbinger of doom for McIlroy fans as he predicted the player's demise for Friday based on the season's form:
Rory McIlroy birdies 12 and is the first player to hit 5-under at #TheOpen. His 78 tomorrow is going to be tough to watch...— Alex Perry (@AlexPerryESPN) July 17, 2014
He did not hold the outright lead for long, as Italy's Matteo Manassero birdied his final hole to take the clubhouse lead and join McIlroy on five under.
However, having saved par well on the 15th after an off drive, he birdied yet another par five on the next to move clear at the top of the leaderboard, per the PGA Tour:
Two pars to finish put McIlroy in pole position after his first day of the 2014 Open; it was an impressive performance around Hoylake.
A very fine start then from many people's favourite for the weekend, but the Friday jinx—perfectly illustrated by this stat from The Daily Telegraph's Oliver Brown—will surely be at the back of McIlroy's mind as he takes to the course tomorrow:
Rory McIlroy, astonishingly, is now a combined 57 under for his first rounds this season - as opposed to nine over for his second.— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) July 17, 2014
After Thursday's opening round, McIlroy discussed his poor second-round showings, per GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel:
Rory McIlroy on his poor Friday performances: “I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m putting a little bit too much pressure on myself.”— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 17, 2014
He had the weather on his side Thursday, and with links golf so heavily dictated by conditions, he must be prepared for anything come Friday and the weekend.
But a more consistent opening round he could not have hoped for—he did not drop a shot—and the rest of the field will see it as an ominous sign that McIlroy started quite so well.