Lowry spent much of the opening day leading with a four-under-par 67.
He acknowledged being “very unconfident, I’m not going to lie” on the first tee. Earlier Clarke had received an almighty ovation when he got proceedings underway. McDowell admitted to having a tear in his eye when he teed off. Clarke got to three under par early in his round and finished with a 71, level par. McDowell also started well, but a triple bogey at the last meant a 73. McIlroy, with cries of “Go Rory” ringing in his ears, caused consternation when he pulled his iron shot at the first into the crowd and out of bounds. His next also went left but found the rough. His fourth found a bush and he had to take an unplayable. An opening eight and his Open was over before it began. He bogeyed the third, then had a stretch of 12 holes with two birdies and no dropped shots. But a double bogey at the 16th, where he casually missed a short tap-in putt, and a triple at the last meant a 79. “I didn’t give a very good account of myself,” he said, denying he had been more nervous than usual playing in front of his home crowd. “Maybe a bit, but I don’t think it was that.”
Tiger Woods, the Masters champion, parred the first hole but it was down hill from there as the 43-year-old posted a 78. His triumph in the heat at Augusta appeared a long time ago in the cool, rainy conditions here. “I’m not moving as well as I’d like and not able to shape the ball,” he said. “Just Father Time.” Another former champion to struggle was Duval, who had a 14 at the seventh where he lost two balls and played a wrong ball, for a two-shot penalty.
No such trials for Lowry, who birdied the third and the fifth, almost holing his tee shot at the drivable par-four, the ninth and 10th holes. He gave one back at the 11th but, at the 12th, recovered from thick rough with a good pitch to 12 feet and holed for the birdie. “I missed a few chances coming in, but I think four under is a great score on that course,” he said. Lowry hit 16 greens in regulation, more than anyone else all day, and when he did get out of position again showed his famous recovery skills. “Where my game’s at now, if I hit a bad shot, I feel I can get myself out of trouble,” he said. “This golf course is tricky in parts. If you miss it on the wrong side of the hole, you can get yourself into a whole lot of trouble. But if you play all right you can make some birdies as well and thankfully I did that today.”
Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, got to five under before bogeying the last two holes, while Jon Rahm reached the same mark before bogeys at the 15th and 18th holes. They were joined on three under par by a whole host of players, including Brooks Koepka, looking to extend a run of finishing 1-2-1-2 in majors, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Fleetwood, who did not drop a shot all day. Tony Finau and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, also went bogey-free. New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, son of the All Black rugby star Grant, went out in 39 but came home in 10 strokes fewer to set a new record for the second nine at the Open, bettering Eric Brown’s 30 at Royal Lytham in 1958.
J.B. Holmes dropped a shot at the first hole but birdied three of the next four holes, added two more at the 12th and 14th, and another at the last for a 66 and the first-round lead. Holing the 15-footer at the last meant he had beaten his best score in the Open by two strokes. The man from Kentucky won the Genesis Open in February but more recently had missed five cuts in a row. “My results didn’t show it, but I felt confident coming in here,”
said the 37-year-old American. “I didn’t miss too many shots and just stuck to the game plan of not getting too greedy going for pins. Try to hit the fat of the green and hopefully make some putts.” Unlike many of his competitors, Holmes had played at Portrush once before, on a trip while in college, but his memory was hazy. “We played one round here and I don’t remember all the holes,” he said. “Unfortunately, the caddies we had weren’t used to somebody hitting 320 yards, so I got some bad lines.”
First-round leaders: J.B. Holmes 66, Shane Lowry 67, Alex Noren 68, Webb Simpson 68, Sergio Garcia 68, Dylan Frittelli 68, Robert MacIntyre 68, Kiradech Aphibarnrat 68, Ryan Fox 68, Tyrrell Hatton 68, Tommy Fleetwood 68, Brooks Koepka 68, Lee Westwood 68, Tony Finau 68, Jon Rahm 68.