The Old Course was defenseless and no one took advantage of it more than Rory McIlroy.
The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland tied the major championship record Thursday by shooting a 9-under 63 in the opening round of the British Open. Former champion John Daly is tied for third. Tiger Woods is four back from the lead.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – They went to bed in the Auld Gray Toon. When they woke up, they were at the John Deere Classic.
“Awesome,” Steve Marino said of a remarkable time-tunnel experience that was the dominating storyline to the opening round of the 139th British Open. So stunning was the change in elements that Marino found himself actually sweating as he hit practice balls at 5:30 in the morning.
Sweating? Told you we weren’t in St. Andrews.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Marino said. “It was nice. It was definitely out there for the taking.”
And, oh, how they having been taking all morning – so liberally, in fact, that you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that we were back in Silvis, Ill., where one week ago rounds of 59 and 60 were recorded on the same day, Steve Stricker pushed to 25-under in 54 holes, and 33 players finished at 11 under or better.
Marino conceded what was apparent to everyone standing within the shadows of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse – this may have been the start of the British Open upon one of the most heralded links course in the world, “but it was kind of like American golf.”
You know, blast it out there, wedge it onto velcro greens, roll it in. Imagination? As meaningless as the niblick.
Yes, that is why you could feel the disappointment of those who cherish the charm and challenge of links golf, because sadly, with not a breath of wind present, the reality of the day was like a kick to the gut.
“St. Andrews,” Marcel Siem said, “is not the toughest course in the world if there’s no wind.”
Ouch. But guess what? Siem was being diplomatic. What he could have said was, without wind, St. Andrews is actually a pushover for the titanium troops, perhaps a par 69, not a 72. So soft has it been on this first morning of action that with the first 105 players on the course or having finished, a whopping 85 were at par or better.
OK, we won’t have a 59 and a 60 – scores posted by Paul Goydos and Steve Stricker a week ago – but en route to a 63, Rory McIlroy actually attacked the flagstick at the “Road Hole” 17th, and among those who shot 66 was John Daly.
John Daly at 66? The same John Daly who had been 97-over in his previous 32 British Open rounds since dating back to 1996, the year after he won here?
Yes, indeed, it was the same old John Daly. But painfully, it was not the same old St. Andrews.
Whereas one day earlier it had been so ferociously windy, rainy, and cold that few had the courage to play, when the bell sounded for Round 1, Marino looked out his window and couldn’t wait to get out the door.
“It was awesome, especially because I was thinking today was going to be like yesterday,” Marino said. “But there was no wind; I couldnt believe it.”
Certainly, it made that 3:30 a.m. alarm a bit easier to take, no? Marino agreed, conceding that he had been somewhat skeptical about being in the first group off. “Obviously,” he said, “I’d rather sleep in a ittle bit, but it is what it is, and we lucked out with the conditions. It was perfect.”
How perfect? Consider that the first 12 players out went a combined 17 under.
And it only remained red as you scanned the list of scores, with 11 of the first 52 finishers going for 68 or better, including Lucas Glover. The only thing is, his 67 felt like 77 alongside McIlroy’s 63.
“You can’t get caught up watching him,” Glover said, but he conceded that, in fact, he couldn’t help but get caught up in what at one time threatened to be a course record.
“I was pulling for him,” Glover said.
Of course, more passionately, Glover was pulling for himself to finish strong, but a bogey at the par-4 17th and a birdie at the par 4 18th left him at 67.
On the surface, not bad. After all, “you know, 5 under the first round at a major – I’ll take it,” Glover said.
Fair enough. But the only thing is, did it not feel like the John Deere Classic, which has never been confused with a major?
Hardly a competitor was prepared to dispute that, though Marino – his day’s work done before even the lunchtime hour had arrived – suggested some caution be embraced.
“It was nice,” he said, “but I have a feeling it’s not going to be like that the rest of the week.”
Let us hope he is right.