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Rory McIlroy happy to be in the frame ahead of historic Open quest

 

Eyes down: Rory McIlroy on the eighth green during yesterday’s opening round of the Scottish Open at North Berwick
Eyes down: Rory McIlroy on the eighth green during yesterday’s opening round of the Scottish Open at North Berwick

By Phil Casey

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy made a flying start to his ASI Scottish Open bid with four birdies in the first seven holes but was unable to make any further progress to end the first day four off the pace.

The World No.3, playing in his final tournament before his home Open at Royal Portrush next week, looked irresistible in his opening seven holes, playing some sublime shots.

However, his round hit the buffers pretty quickly after that, a struggle at the eighth yielding a momentum-halting bogey before a three-putt at the 11th saw him drop another shot.

Although he would rectify those errors with birdies at the 12th and 16th, McIlroy is already four shots off the lead after some incredible scoring at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick.

Romain Wattel, Matt Kuchar, Nino Bertasio and Edoardo Molinari all shot eight-under 63s to sit in a tie for the early lead on a day where the North Berwick links received no help from Mother Nature, with calm winds and sky-splitting sunshine prevailing.

Despite already being off the pace, McIlroy did proclaim himself happy with how his round went regardless.

"I think they were pretty generous in terms of the course set-up because they have never been here before," McIlroy said. "The rain softened the greens and any links course we go to where there is not much wind people are going to rip it apart.

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"It was sort of tough to get it close to the holes coming in just because the wind had picked up. But overall pretty pleased with how the day went."

McIlroy praised the performance of playing partner Robert MacIntyre, the 22-year-old left-hander carding a 68 as he continues his impressive debut season on the European Tour.

"I thought he did great," McIlroy added. "I said to him I enjoyed watching him at Hillside when he finished second in the British Masters and he played great here, he handled himself really well.

"He got off to a nice start, it was a bit of a shaky one for him around the middle but he came back with a couple of birdies coming in. I thought he did very well."

Meanwhile, joint leader Molinari will gladly swap a holiday on the beaches of Portofino for a week in Portrush if it means competing alongside younger brother Francesco as he defends his Open title.

Three places in the year's final major are up for grabs for players who finish in the top-10 at the Scottish Open and Edoardo occupies one of them after his opening 63.

"I was very close to qualifying for the Open last week, I only missed by a couple of shots in the end," 2010 Scottish Open champion Molinari said after a round containing two eagles, five birdies and a solitary bogey.

"It would obviously be special to be there when Francesco is the defending champion. That would be a great thing. But I'm not planning on going if I don't make it in. I've planned a summer holiday with my wife and two kids, so I definitely won't go.

"If I'm not at Portrush I will be lying on the beach in Portofino, although I'll definitely watch some golf in the evenings, over the weekend, certainly."

Former Open champion Henrik Stenson is two shots off the pace after a bogey-free 65 but admitted "target golf" was not the ideal preparation for Portrush.

"You want to be in the mindset of landing a pitching wedge five or six paces short of the pin and skipping forward, but all of a sudden they are now spinning back," Stenson said.

"It's almost like you have to force yourself in the other direction. Normally you want time to readjust coming from target golf."

Portrush native Graeme McDowell needs a big second round to make the cut after an opening two-over par 73.

• On the Challenge Tour, Cormac Sharvin couldn't repeat his Irish Open heroics, shooting a one-over first round at the Le Vaudreuil Challenge, while Michael Hoey had a nine-over 79.

On the Europro Tour, Jonathan Caldwell (Clandeboye) is six shots back of leader Marco Penge going into the final day at the COBRA PUMA-NXT LVL Championship in Cheshire, with John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) two strokes further back.

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