Belfast Telegraph

Rory steals the show and hearts of crowd

By Paul Ferguson

Holywood wonder kid and Open debutant Rory McIlroy hit the third best score on the opening day of the 136th Championship and then shrugged: "It's been pretty good."

The level headed 18-year-old amateur stole the show at Carnoustie by recording a sensational 68 – three under par – to leave himself only three shots behind leader Sergio Garcia.

McIlroy left most of the world's best players in his wake, including World No 1 Tiger Woods and Masters champion Zach Johnson, on a course that is widely regarded as the toughest on the Major schedule.

His playing partners and Ryder Cup heroes Miguel Angel Jimenez and Henrik Stenson watched on in amazement and were left suitably impressed as the young Northern Ireland lad won their match and also the hearts of the Carnoustie galleries with terrific drives, consistently good approach shots, expert chips and solid putts.

McIlory, who won the European Amateur title to gain entry into the Open Championship, birdied the fifth, 11th and 13th and was the only player NOT to record a bogey in the first round.

Unbelievably, it could have been even better had he taken three wonderful birdie opportunities on the seventh, 14th and 15th holes. His putter, though red hot for most of the day, let him down.

But these slight disappointments did not faze this Holywood Golf Club member who plays off plus six and he admitted the thought of being so high up on the Open leaderboard, in such illustrious company, will not be something that plays on his mind.

McIlroy said: "All I've set out to do this week is make the cut, win the silver medal and learn from everybody I play with and I think I've done that so far as playing with Henrik and Miguel was awesome.

"But I'll be able to sleep all right, I'm knackered.

"I plan to go home, put my feet up, watch the highlights and then go straight to bed. I'll have no problem sleeping."

McIlroy seemed to be coolness personified before his round yesterday and the obvious nerves were well hidden.

After some last-minute advice on the course from mentor Darren Clarke – the Dungannon man had just completed his round of 71 – McIlroy strode onto the first tee a good 10 minutes before he was scheduled to start.

The group ahead, which included top American Jim Furyk, had hardly reached the fairway before McIlroy was straight over to starter Ivor Robson and itching to get started.

McIlroy received rapturous applause as Holywood members and a huge number of friends were interspersed with golf fans from all over the world eagerly anticipating the next bright kid on the circuit.

McIlroy opted for an iron off the tee and despite his relaxed demeanour, nerves, understandably for an 18-year-old amateur playing in his first Major championship, got the better of him and he pulled his opening shot into the rough on the left.

His lie though wasn't as bad as first feared and the Holywood teenager recovered well, sending his second shot to the back of the green.

An exceptional chip shot then gave him a two-foot opportunity for par and he dispensed the ball in the hole and a huge cheer rang round once again. Probably the biggest cheer for a par ever.

Three steady pars followed and then the much anticipated first birdie arrived.

This gave McIlroy a huge boost in confidence and the hidden nerves suddenly evaporated. As well as consistently hitting fairways and greens he also had to get used to doffing his cap at the regular bursts of applause.

His tee shot on the par three 176 yards 13th was exceptional and deserving of a birdie. McIlroy hit it to within six feet and decisively sank the putt.

Over the next five huge holes, including the long par three 248 yards 16th, the pressure of performing so consistently well on a huge stage didn't seem to get to him and McIlroy was always giving himself chances.

At the notoriously difficult 18th, and with the huge grandstands awaiting his arrival, McIlroy drove long but down the right leaving a second tough shot of around 260 yards and with an awkward stance below the ball.

McIlroy, though, struck a magnificent two iron 240 yards to leave him with a birdie opportunity and, though he failed to hole it, the teenager was able to savour his best shot of the day.

"That was a great shot and if I had only one memory from the day that would be it," said McIlroy.

Rory has now set his sights on emulating Justin Rose's scintillating performance at the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale when the then 18-year-old stunned the golfing world by finishing fourth.

It's a tall ask to remain in the hunt with the world's top players, but then Rory McIlroy has been re-writing the record books throughout his young life.

Don't be surprised if a new chapter is written on Sunday from this unassuming young man.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph