ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — In the 137 years since the British Open first came to St. Andrews, the Old Course rarely has been such a pushover. Rarer still was the score Rory McIlroy delivered on Thursday.
Whether it was the luck of the draw or his talent, it really didn't matter. In conditions so calm that not a hair on his considerable mop was out of place, McIlroy set off on a run into the record book with a 9-under 63 that gave him a two-shot lead.
"Going out there this morning with no wind, you're never going to get St. Andrews playing any easier," McIlroy said.
It was just as easy for John Daly, a former champion at St. Andrews. He energized the gallery by bashing tee shots and making enough birdies for a 66, matching his best score in the British Open.
"It's a golf course, I don't know, I just love it. I don't know why," he said. "It suits my game."
And it was just as easy for Tiger Woods, who had three straight late birdies for a 67.
"The old lady had no clothes on today," Tom Watson said after a 73.
There were 45 rounds in the 60s, 73 players broke par and the average score was 71.75.
No one took advantage like McIlroy, 21, from Northern Ireland. He tied the lowest score in any major, and had the second such score at St. Andrews in golf's oldest championship.
Of eight players who have shot 63 in the British Open, only McIlroy did it in the first round.
"I'm very happy that I was able to take advantage of those conditions," said McIlroy, who had a two-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. "And it gives me a little bit of a buffer going into the next three days, whatever weather comes our way."
Soon after McIlroy finished his round, the skies brought showers and a breeze that picked up strength the rest of the afternoon.
Of the 16 players atop the leaderboard, only Peter Hanson (66), Bradley Dredge (66), Lee Westwood (67) and Y.E. Yang (67) teed off after the wind came.
"You could have kicked it round in a low score this morning," Westwood said. "The course was defenseless, and I actually expected somebody to post a 62."
Phil Mickelson's only birdie was an 8-foot putt on the last hole. He stormed off with a 73.
"I'm going to need some luck,'' he said. "I need the good end of the weather.''
The forecast today is for rain and wind in the morning when Mickelson will tee off, with some clearing in the afternoon.
McIlroy's run began with a drive that he hit onto the green at the 352-yard ninth hole to about 15 feet. He knocked that in for birdie and was on his way. He followed with a sand wedge to 6 feet on the 10th for birdie, a 7-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 11th, and two putts from 50 feet on the short 12th hole.
"It just goes to show you that the course could have been had," Woods said. "When I was playing either 17 or 18, to be in the top 10 you had to be 5 under. You don't see that at too many majors."
For Woods, it was the first time in eight rounds in an Open at St. Andrews — dating to July 20, 2000 — that he was not atop the leaderboard at the end of a round. He was moving closer to the lead until he pulled a 4-foot par putt on the 17th, then missed a 10-foot birdie on 18.
"I'm in good shape," Woods said. "… As of right now, we're on the good side of the draw."
1. Rory McIlroy -9 63
2. Louis Oosthuizen -7 65
T3. Andrew Coltart -6 66
T3. John Daly -6 66
T3. Bradley Dredge -6 66
T3. Peter Hanson -6 66
T3. Steven Tiley -6 66
T8. Tiger Woods -5 67
T8. Y.E. Yang -5 67
T46. Stewart Cink -2 70
T96. Phil Mickelson +1 73