McIlroy belies his youth with masterful debut
When you are 18 and making your professional debut you hardly need artificial stimulants. Despite getting up at 5.30am – well, it was quarter to six by the time the teenager finally hauled himself out of bed – Rory McIlroy had a bowl of cereal and a couple of bananas and then took himself off to work.
And what an assured performance he gave. An opening 69 at the Quinn Direct British Masters left the Northern Irishman handily placed on the leaderboard, a stroke ahead of Colin Montgomerie, one behind Lee Westwood, two behind Ian Poulter.
McIlroy ended six off the lead, but only because Sweden's Martin Erlandsson equalled the lowest score ever recorded on the Brabazon with a 63, officially a new course record due to several changes on the layout. The remarkable round included five birdies and an eagle in his last seven holes. While Westwood and Montgomerie also had a string of birdies coming home, Erlandsson put his streak together on the more difficult finish to the front nine.
What was particularly impressive about McIlroy, who won the silver medal as the leading amateur at The Open at Carnoustie, was that he did not drop a shot to par on the track that has been home to four Ryder Cups.
"I wasn't as nervous as at the Open or the first tee of the Walker Cup," McIlroy said. "I just went out and played, strolled around, hit a few good shots and holed a few putts." Some stroll. His first three holes helped "settle me down" but might have rattled lesser beings. He missed the green at the infamous 10th hole, but not badly enough to find the water, and then chipped and putted for his par.
At the 11th his drive finished under the lip of a high-faced bunker and he had to play out backwards but ended up chipping in for his par. At the short 12th, he again missed the green, but chipped in again for the first of three birdies.
The success of his friend Oliver Fisher, the English teenager, in his rookie season helped McIlroy feel at home. "If he could get out here, I knew I could," McIlroy said. "Ollie said the guys out here aren't that much better than us but they know how to get it round the course and put some good numbers on the card."
Artificial stimulants were only raised because yesterday it was finally confirmed that all the leading golfing organisations are working on an anti-doping programme. A list of banned substances has been agreed and while general protocol standards are still being worked out, most tours will begin testing next year.
Most pertinently, any action against a player on one circuit will be recognised on all the other tours. "It is terrific that all the bodies have come together to demonstrate that our sport is clean and that we can keep it that way," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient. "We will have a great deal of consistency."