Sandwich (AFP) — Rory McIlroy's quest for a US/British Open double got off to a stumbling start at Royal St George's here on Thursday.
22-year-old from Northern Ireland won the US Open by a stunning eight
strokes last month to make the move from golfing prodigy to superstar
status, and in the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, he is the biggest
draw at the 140th Open.
McIlroy was watched by a sizeable and
admiring gallery as he set off at 9:09 am in the company of 2002
champion Ernie Els of South Africa and American hope Rickie Fowler.
cool, cloudy conditions, with just a slight breeze blowing, the
Ulsterman, seeking to become the youngest winner of the Open since 1893,
clobbered his opening drive safely up the fairway of the 444-yard, par
four opening hole.
But after over-hitting his approach, McIlroy three-putted from just off the back of the green.
He then overhit his tee-shot at the long, par-three third and again needed three from the back of the green to drop to two over.
was the first time McIlroy had played competitively since winning in
the United States, but he insists he can cope with the spotlight being
fully on him as he attempts to become the first player to win the US and
British Opens since Woods in 2000.
"I'm the sort of person that
likes a little bit of a buzz in the atmosphere around the group and I'll
enjoy it. I'll definitely enjoy it," he said.
"Last time I played competitive golf I had a pretty big crowd following me."
were early birdies for Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, Englishmen Danny Willett
and Simon Dyson as well as Ryan Moore of the United States and Hiroyuki
Fujita of Japan.
But it was American veteran Marc Calcavecchia,
the winner at Troon in 1989, who was the first to get to two under with
birdies at four and seven.
American Jerry Kelly, meanwhile, opened
with a bogey five but that left him six strokes better off than the
last time the Open was held here on the Kent costline in 2003.
that occasion he started with a horrendous 11 en route to an 86 and an
injured hand that forced him to withdraw from the second round.
for him, he double-bogeyed the second and dropped further shots at the
sixth and seventh to prop up the field at five under.
yards and a par of 70, bumpy, quirky Royal St George's on a flat stretch
of Kent coastline is a tough test for the world's best and one that
will get even tougher if the offshore winds blast inland over the next
"You never know what the weather will do, you can get
the right side of the draw or the wrong side of the draw, but you never
know what Mother Nature will throw at you," was how England's Ian
Poulter put it.
One of several players bidding to win the Open for
England for the first time since Nick Faldo in 1992, Poulter has come
close before - three years ago at Royal Birkdale where he finished
second to a late-charging Padraig Harrington.
Poulter has company
for the honour of matching Faldo in the shape of the top two ranking
players in the world - Luke Donald and Lee Westwood - both of whom are
out to win a long-overdue first Major.
In the absence of Woods,
four-time major winner Phil Mickelson will be expected to lead the way
for the Americans, seeking to end a record run of five Majors without a
World No.10 Nick Watney though said that, golf being an
individual game, he felt no added pressure on himself to provide an
American win. All he could do was go out and do hs best and hope that
luck is on his side.
"A golf course like this - sometimes good
things happen to bad shots and bad things happen to good shots, but at
the same time, I think it'll be a great test, and I'm really looking
forward to the challenge of Royal St. George's."
champion will be Louis Oosthuizen, heading a strong South African
challenge which includes Els, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and
two-time US champion Retief Goosen.