The Open: Rory McIlroy shoots opening round 66 at St Andrews as Cameron Young sets the pace

The Open: Rory McIlroy shoots opening round 66 at St Andrews as Cameron Young sets the pace

Rory McIlroy is firmly in contention to end his long Major drought after a superb six-under opening round, as America’s Cameron Young finished the first round top of the leaderboard at the 150th Open.

Young shot a bogey-free 64 to take the lead at eight-under on Open debut, two clear of McIlroy, who birdied the final hole to move into second outright, a shot ahead of Australia’s Cameron Smith. He is joined on five-under by the surprise name of Robert Dinwiddie, who made just one bogey, on the 16th, in his round.

McIlroy is playing only his second Open at St. Andrews after missing the 2015 edition through injury and is seeking a second Claret Jug, which would bring to an end his eight-year wait for a Major title.

Playing alongside defending champion Collin Morikawa and the in-form Xander Schauffele, the Northern Irishman got off to the perfect start by holing a 54-foot birdie putt on the opening hole and went on to make seven birdies and a solitary bogey in his 66, his lowest first round score at the Open since winning it at Royal Liverpool in 2014.

“I played well,” McIlroy said. “Very solid. I think everyone knows on this course you have to make your score going out and I did that, started off tremendously with a bit of a bonus at the first.”

World number one Scottie Scheffler got his tournament off to an impressive start with a four-under round of 68, which sees him alongside Dustin Johnson in the top five. Johnson was the 36-hole leader at St Andrews seven years ago, before falling away over the weekend and finishing in a tie for 49th.

Jordan Spieth birdied the last to finish in red figures for the day, while Jon Rahm had an ice-cold putter as he posted an opening 73. It was a miserable Thursday for Tiger Woods, at his favourite course in the world. Two of his 15 majors have come at the Home of Golf but a hat-trick looks nigh on impossible as he found himself six-over through seven holes, and that was the mark he finished his round on.

A clutch of players made early headway on what is expected to be a low scoring week, with amateur Barclay Brown and Lee Westwood among those in the clubhouse on four-under. Earlier in the day, European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter was booed on the first tee over his role in the LIV Golf breakaway, but responded with a flying start.

Poulter is one of 24 rebels signed up to the Saudi-bankrolled circuit in the field for final Major of the year and was the first of them to get his opening round underway on the Old Course.

Ian Poulter recovered well from a nervy opening hole (PA)
Ian Poulter recovered well from a nervy opening hole (PA)

The 46-year-old looked rattled by the rough reception as he fired his tee shot well left and almost missed the widest fairway in golf, but recovered to make par and went on to briefly grab the outright lead on three-under after draining a mammoth 162-foot eagle putt on the ninth.

There were more favourable responses to Phil Mickelson, the early LIV posterboy, and even perennial pantomime villain Patrick Reed, who donned an LIV Golf cap, having worn an outfit splattered with the tour’s logos during yesterday’s practice round. Bryson DeChambeau, another of the breakaway stars, bounced back from an early dropped shot with a hat-trick of birdies on the front-nine and eventually carded a three-under 69, level with the likes of Poulter, Schauffele and Danny Willett.

South Africa’s Ernie Els won The Open in 2002 and 2012 and another decade on was rolling back the years as he at one point reached five-under, but the 52-year-old bogeyed two of the final three holes to slip back.