Friday, February 23, 2018
Golf

Rory McIlroy and Tigers Woods deliver at British Open

HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy had everything go his way Thursday in the British Open.

A lovely day with abundant sunshine and minimal wind allowed him to attack Royal Liverpool. He made half of his six birdies on the par 5s and kept bogeys off his card. And on the day Tiger Woods made a promising return, McIlroy took the first-round lead with 6-under 66, his best score in nearly two years at a major.

Now if he can only find a way to get to the weekend.

McIlroy either set himself up for a good run at the claret jug or another dose of Friday failures. In what has been an unusual year for golf, no trend is more mysterious than Boy Wonder going from awesome to awful overnight. Six times in his past eight tournaments, he has had a nine-hole score of 40 or higher on Friday that has taken him out of the mix.

"It's not like I've shot good scores in first rounds and haven't backed them up before," McIlroy said. "I'm used to doing that. I just haven't done it recently. We'll see what tomorrow brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.

"Hopefully it's just one of those things and I'm able to turn it around tomorrow."

Woods also would like to keep moving in the right direction. He got off to a troubling start with two quick bogeys, nearly made another one on the fourth hole, and then looked like a 14-time major champion when he ran off five birdies in six holes toward the end of his round for 69.

Not bad for guy who had back surgery March 31, who started taking full swings only a month ago and who had not played in a major in 11 months. "It felt good to be back out there competing again," Woods said.

Such pristine weather — how long it would last was the big unknown — gave just about everyone a chance to score. Matteo Manassero broke par in the Open for the first time since he was a 16-year-old amateur. Manassero, 21, began his round by hitting into a pot bunker, blasting out to the fairway and holing out from 160 yards for birdie. He made five birdies on the back nine, three on the par 5s.

In second with 67, that made him low Italian — barely. Brothers Francesco Molinari and Edoardo Molinari have games that are nothing alike, though they shot the same score. They were in a large group at 68 along with Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry and Adam Scott. Scott stands out in that group as the No. 1 player in the world and because he was the only one in the top 10 who played in the afternoon, when the wind made it tougher. He went out in 31 and was slowed only by two bogeys on the back nine.

Phil Mickelson was trying to get back to par when he hooked his approach to the 18th beyond the out-of-bounds stakes down the right side of the hole and had to scramble for bogey and 74. He hasn't broken par at a major since winning the British Open last summer.

Henrik Stenson knocked a 30-foot birdie putt off the 12th green and made double bogey, and then took two hacks out of the shin-high grass left of the 17th fairway. Walking to his next shot, he snapped his gap wedge over his thigh like a baseball player who had just struck out with the bases loaded.

Through all this activity, two names came to the forefront: McIlroy and Woods, both trying to restore their games from different circumstances.

McIlroy's only win this year was at the BMW PGA Championship, where he started his week by ending his engagement with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. He could have had more chances to win except for that 40 on the front nine at Quail Hollow, the 42 on the front nine at the Players Championship and the 43 on the back nine at the Memorial.

He met with Jack Nicklaus, and the topic of his freaky Fridays came up.

"I didn't mention it to him,'' McIlroy said. ''He mentioned it to me — 'How … can you shoot 63 and then 78?' No, I think what we talked about was just holding a round together. And he was never afraid to make a change in the middle of the round … to get it back on track."

Leaderboard

Rory McIlroy 66 -6

Matteo Manassero 67 -5

Brooks Koepka 68 -4

Edoardo Molinari 68 -4

Francesco Molinari 68 -4

Jim Furyk 68 -4

Sergio Garcia 68 -4

Adam Scott 68 -4

Shane Lowry 68 -4

Notables

Rickie Fowler 69 -3

Tiger Woods 69 -3

Justin Rose 72 E

Tom Watson 73 +1

Phil Mickelson 74 +2

Weather: Clouds and sunshine, with rain; high 77, low 63; 60 percent chance of rain.

TV: 4 a.m., ESPN

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