McIlroy three shots clear
A mere 67 days after his Masters meltdown Rory McIlroy was back leading a major - by three after a brilliant six-under-par 65.
While the world's top three of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were a cumulative 10 over - two 74s and a 75 from pre-tournament favourite Westwood - the 22-year-old Northern Irishman made a dream start to the US Open at Congressional.
McIlroy did not drop a stroke all day, out-scoring playing partner Phil Mickelson by nine on the American's 41st birthday, and was in a league of his own. The real test is yet to come but there was no evidence of any lasting scars as he birdied the 12th, 17th and the monster 523-yard par-four 18th for a back-nine 32.
He went ahead on his own with an eight-footer at the 402-yard first, hit his approach to within three feet of the flag on the 470-yard fourth and then two-putted the long sixth for a sixth birdie.
A closing par on the 636-yard ninth as rain returned meant he matched the opening 65 of Colin Montgomerie in 1997 - a round the Scot rates his finest ever and one that was also watched by Mickelson. As he signed another scorecard he ought to treasure McIlroy could look at a leaderboard with two players joint second on three under.
Korea's 2009 US PGA champion YE Yang had been in with a 68 since lunchtime, while South African Charl Schwartzel, the man who donned the green jacket instead of McIlroy two months ago also finished on three under. Sergio Garcia had looked like he would join them but he missed from inside four feet for a closing bogey to finish the round on two under.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell and Swedes Johan Edfors and Henrik Stenson had been the best of the early European starters with one-under 70s.
McDowell hit back from an opening bogey with two quick birdies and then 12 pars in a row. The Northern Irishman was halted in his progress for a while when a spectator needed medical attention on the 11th, but parring his way through the entire inward half - much the harder of the two - added to his confident mood.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who won the two previous majors at which Tiger Woods was not playing, would have been one under as well but for a closing bogey six at the long ninth. Compatriot Shane Lowry began his debut with a 72.