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US Open: Irresistible Rory McIlroy at it again

By Peter Bills

Rory McIlroy didn't take long to show that his Masters meltdown two months ago didn't leave any major scars.

Four birdies in the first 10 holes — starting on Congressional Country Club's tougher nine — carried the brilliant young Ulsterman into the US Open lead as he made another strong first-round run in a major, finishing with a 6-under 65.

The 22-year-old, who opened last year's Open with a 63 and led after the first round of the Masters at Augusta National, is ahead of former PGA Championship winner YE Yang and Charl Schwartzel, who are both at 3-under.

McIlroy, in irresistible form yesterday, hardly sniffed the threat of bogey through his first 10 holes, missing just one green — and even saving par from a bunker there.

It was a far cry from the start of his previous nine in a major – when a wild drive at No.10 sent him crashing out of the Masters lead with a triple bogey.

A bogey and double bogey followed — giving back six shots to par in three holes.

So could he put it behind him? You bet he could. This was stunning.

Pushing playing partner Phil Mickelson firmly into the shade on his 41st birthday, McIlroy picked up shots on the 12th, 17th and 18th to turn in a three-under-par 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 which three players joint second on three under.

“I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I drove the ball well, my iron play was good,” said McIlroy

“I just feel very comfortable with my game and on this course. When you have a combination like that everything is going to seem okay. But I have to back this score up.

“When I got here last Wednesday I felt the course was set up well for me and it's worked out.”

He added: “It does not feel like a typical US Open. It's going to get harder, firmer and trickier, but I still feel it's very playable.”

As for the world's top three of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer — grouped together earlier in the day when conditions were easier — they finished a cumulative 10 over par.

Donald and Kaymer had 74s and pre-tournament favourite Westwood a 75, after which he said: “I didn't swing it very well and you just don't get away with it at a US Open.

“If we had played like the top three in the world it would have been more enjoyable for the people to watch, but none of us played well and we all just about got what we deserved.”

Donald began spectacularly, hitting four irons to four feet on the dangerous short 10th and 14 feet to set up another birdie at the 494-yard uphill par four.

But he then had four bogeys in five holes from the 13th and a double-bogey six on the 18th, at 523 yards the second longest par four in US Open history.

Although he came home in one under, great damage had been done to his great expectations and he commented: “There were no fireworks - we just didn't get on a run.

“At times you need one of the guys to get everyone going and it just didn't happen today.”

Garcia, in action this week only after surviving a qualifying play-off, birdied the second and long sixth to turn in 34 and then matched Donald's three on the 11th. Mickelson, five times a runner-up in the event, hit his opening shot into the lake short of the 10th green, double-bogeyed and was still two over with six to go.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell and Swedes Johan Edfors and Henrik Stenson had been the best of the early European starters with one-under 70s.

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.

He said: “I would have taken it before I went out. If I had birdied the last rather than bogeyed it I would have felt a lot happier, but it was a fair reflection.

“I've got a new set of irons and I definitely had a nice bit of control. They're next year's model, but I get them six months in advance.”

Compatriot Shane Lowry began his debut with a 72 — what Donald would have given for his three on the 523-yard par four 18th — while Paul Casey shot 73 and Justin Rose 74.

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