Rory McIlroy in a good place after taking taxi ride of doom
Dramatic finale sees Northern Irishman in hunt, three shots behind leader Scott
The closing holes at Lytham define the course. Rory McIlroy added his own signature with an explosive finale to take his place among a cluster of major champions colonising the leaderboard in pursuit of Adam Scott.
A poleaxed spectator was just one of the victims of his fireworks at dusk. The others were the 16th and 18th holes, necessary scalps if McIlroy were to ascend the same plateau as Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell, three behind the leader.
McIlroy was accumulating by stealth until an errant tee shot at the 15th was diverted out of bounds by the head of a teenage boy, coming to rest at the same burger van that had earlier snared Paul Casey. The reward for the slain was a signed glove, for McIlroy a double-bogey six, which became a "BigMac and cries" for the Lancastrian comedians on site. "If he could have headed it the other way, it would have been in the fairway," McIlroy said turning comedic. "The most important thing was that he was OK. I would have felt terrible if it had been worse."
The return to the tee in a buggy is the taxi ride of doom for the golfer. The McIlroy of recent vintage might have been discouraged. Not yesterday's warrior. He promptly drove the 336-yard 16th to set up a birdie and signed off with another at 18 for a 67. Today he has first crack at the course, hoping to present Scott with a deficit to close in the afternoon. "I thought I did well to keep my composure and my concentration. I'm very pleased with that. Standing on the 16th tee, my goal is to get back to three- under par for the day. And I was able to do that. So that birdie on 18 will make dinner taste very nice."
Play like there is no tomorrow was Scott's mantra. Treat the first hole like it was the 72nd to win a major. That might yet come to pass after the Australian's vivisection of a supine Lytham. The advice came from his caddie, Steve Williams, he of the Tiger glory years, who passed on the tip from his former master. The result was an opening 64, three better than the pre-tournament favourite and one clear of the field, and that after a bogey at the last.
Scott's score, posted early, prevailed all day. Paul Lawrie, Zach Johnson and Nicolas Colsaerts came within a stroke, with Brandt Snedeker one further back. Scott stood on the 18th tee needing a 10th birdie to secure golf's magic number, a round of 62, unprecedented in a major championship. The idea proved too powerful to contain, feeding into a nervy swing and a hooked tee shot into the long stuff. From there a five was the best he could do.
"I was waiting to use the bathroom going to the 17th tee and looked at the leaderboard and realised it was a par 70," Scott said. "I also probably realised then that I wasn't going to be the guy to shoot 62. It's one of those things that you don't want to go through your mind, thinking about your final score and stuff like that. Unfortunately I dropped one up the last."
It was a belated victory for a course becalmed by record rainfall leading up to the event and the absence of wind on the day. With the forecasters predicting benign conditions at least until Sunday, Lytham is a course with its trousers down. "I was not really expecting it to play like this. It was just like a nice walk in the park today, not what we've experienced in the practice rounds."
Successive birdies at the sixth and seventh ignited his round, but it was not until the back nine that Scott began to reap the benefit of his attitude shift. "I was playing so well going into the US Open and all of a sudden I was seven over through 15 holes. You can't pick up that many shots in a major. So to really switch on right from the first tee was the idea. At any given time he can help me, a guy with experience like Steve. He wanted me to go to that first tee today like it was the 72nd hole. That was a good little trigger."
Scott's broomhandle putter is an affront to the purist. It is also under review by the authorities, who are concerned at the advantage gained when a club is anchored to the body. The belief is that the use of the torso as a pivot in the putting action is to be outlawed ahead of the next Olympics.
Lawrie inverted Scott's experience with a birdie at the last to lead the British challenge. The 1999 Open champion took a pasting in America for electing not to play the US Open last month on the grounds it would not enhance his Ryder Cup claims. Given a course set-up at Olympic Club that allowed chance too big a hand in determining outcomes, a good decision by Lawrie looked even better yesterday.
Lee Westwood did go to San Francisco and endured an equally frustrating opening on Britain's west coast. A birdie-birdie start could not protect against wayward iron play, which at the 14th required a left-handed escape from a bunker, and contributed to four bogeys in the closing six holes for a 73. "It was nice to birdie the first two holes, but I don't feel in control of the ball at the moment. And you get found out pretty quickly around an Open course," said Westwood.
World No 1 Luke Donald, who missed the cut with Westwood at Royal St George's, is well placed to avoid that fate despite a bogey at the last, which cost him a first sub-70 opening round in a major since 2006.
First round scores (Gbr & Irl unless stated, par 70)
64 A Scott (Aus)
65 Z Johnson (US); P Lawrie; N Colsaerts (Bel)
66 B Snedeker (US)
67 S Stricker (US); T Woods (US); G McDowell; T Muto (Japan); B Watson (US); P Hanson (Swe); R McIlroy; E Els (SA)
68 T Aiken (SA); J Hicks (US); A Hansen (Den); S Pinckney (US); J Morrison; J Kruger (SA); J Donaldson; A Lahiri (India)
69 F Molinari (It); S Alker (Aus); C Schwartzel (SA); A Da Silva (Br); B Jones (Aus); M Kuchar (US); M Baldwin; L Slattery; T Jaidee (Thai); B Estes (US); T Potter; Jr. (US); F Jacobson (Swe); M Leishman (Aus); T Olesen (Den); R Sterne (SA)
70 V Singh (Fji); T Bjorn (Den); M Laird; R Cabrera Bello (Sp); J Milkha Singh (India); A Townsend (Aus); K Stanley (US); J Dufner (US); R Goosen (SA); J Senden (Aus); S Khan; H Mahan (US); A Romero (Arg); K J Choi (S Kor); L Donald; T Matteson (US); P Harrington
71 N Watney (US); G Mulroy (SA); G Owen; J Pagunsan (Phil); A Noren (Swe); B Haas (US); D Whitnell; B Van Pelt (US); W Bennett; R Fowler (US); A Hall (Aus); M Fraser (Aus); R Ramsay; D Love III (US); T Watson (US); G Chalmers (Aus); A Cabrera (Arg); G Fernandez-Castano (Sp); H English (US); K Bradley (US); A Baddeley (Aus); M Calcavecchia (US); M Angel Jimenez (Sp); I Poulter; Y Fujimoto (Japan); C Pettersson (Swe)
72 K Oda (Japan); R Fisher; G Ogilvy (Aus); T Hamilton (US); S Dyson; T Taniguchi (Japan); C Howell III (US); J Daly (US); T Kelly (US); L Glover (US); S Cink (US); L Oosthuizen (SA); S Tiley; R Jacquelin (Fr); M Wilson (US); P Casey; J Furyk (US); S Garcia (Sp); Sang-moon Bae (S Kor)
73 J Luiten (Neth); B Grace (SA); G Woodland (US); R Echenique (Arg); P Larrazabal (Sp); C Campbell (US); D Chopra (Swe); G Havret (Fr); L Westwood; T Lehman (US); N Cullen (Aus); K Na (US); D Johnson (US); P Mickelson (US); J Wagner (US); B Lane
74 D Duval (US); M Orum Madsen (Den); S O'Hara; C Reavie (US); A Georgiou (SA); J Rose; A Canizares (Sp); S Lyle; S Ames (Can); Y.E. Yang (S Kor); M Siem (Ger); G Coetzee (SA); A Quiros (Sp); R Ishikawa (Japan); M Thompson (US); T Immelman (SA); R Finch; M Trappel (Aut); J Byrd (US)
75 A Dunbar; K.t. Kim (S Kor); B Curtis (US); P Broadhurst; J Leonard (US); R Allenby (Aus); P Marksaeng (Thai); J Huh (S Kor); B Kennedy (Aus)
76 I Keenan; S Walker; E Saltman; D Clarke; T Clark (SA); J Driscoll (US); H Fujita (Japan)
77 T Takayama (Japan); K Ichihara (Japan); M Kaymer (Ger); G Veenstra (SA); M Mamat (Sing)
78 R Rock; 79 M Hoey.