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Superb start gives McIlroy a shot at Open glory

By Colm O'Carroll

The grass has never looked so green for Northern Ireland’s clutch of talented golfers.

Young gun Rory McIlroy equalled the lowest opening round in major golf history yesterday to lead the Open at nine under par — just weeks after pal Graeme McDowell won the US Open.

The brilliant display was also only the 24th round of 63 played in a major competition, equalling the lowest score in a major ever.

McIlroy blitzed the Old Course at St Andrews with seven birdies and an eagle to post the early first-round lead.

It could have been a 62 but for a lapse in concentration as he stood over his ball on the 17th green.

Tyrone man Darren Clarke also had a reasonable opening day, sitting at two under par, seven shots behind compatriot McIlroy.

But McDowell didn’t fare so well yesterday, finishing his first round well outside the top 20.

There has never been a 62 in a major and the 21-year-old, three ahead of John Daly and Andrew Coltart, said: “It sort of went through my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major. That's probably why I missed the putt.”

He added: “It was a fantastic score. I didn't get off to a flying start.

“I was one under through eight holes and then the eagle on nine really sort of turned things around for me and I just got going from there.”

The 21-year-old was the toast of the golfing world yesterday, nowhere more so than at his home club in Holywood, Co Down.

Club manager Paul Gray said members were drooling with excitement at the prospect of a another major coming to Northern Ireland after McDowell’s success at the US Open.

“I heard about the eagle and all the birdies and thought he was really going for it.

“He loves the course as he got his tour card there and there’s plenty of room so he can stretch it a bit and have a go.”

“I’ve known him from he was two years old. He grew up here at the club, so I’ve watched him grow and develop as a golfer.”

Mr Gray said he believed Rory could win through.

“He’s brimming with confidence. He took time off last week to go to St Andrews to practise and miss the Scottish Open, so he’s deadly serious.”

The former club pro said he believed Rory had the mental toughness to take the pressure.

“If he’s there at the end, he won’t shy away from it. He won’t be afraid.

“He’s seen Graeme McDowell take a major and he’ll be thinking: ‘If he can, why can’t I’.”

Mr Gray said yesterday’s amazing feat had started a real buzz around Rory’s home club.

“We’re all talking about it. It’s going to be a busy weekend as we expect people to come down to watch if he’s anywhere within a shout.

“If he wins I don’t know what will happen — there’ll be some party.”

McIlroy’s performance also prompted the bookies to slash the odds on him lifting the old claret Jug from 33-1 to just 3-1. This compares to Tiger Woods on 9-2, while McDowell is down at 49-1.

Belfast Telegraph

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