Rory McIlroy produced a fighting finish, but his rollercoaster 70 left him in the exhaust fumes of playing partners Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas in the Scottish Open.
Struggling to find his groove for The Open, the World No.11 mixed five birdies with four bogeys at the Renaissance Club and will likely need a round in the 60s today just to make the cut.
England’s Jack Senior took advantage of calm conditions and made eight birdies in a seven-under 64 to lead by a shot from World No.3 Thomas and Lee Westwood with World No.1 and reigning US Open champion Rahm in a nine-man tie for fourth after a facile 66.
“Rory obviously didn’t play very well for his standards and we know he can do better,” said Thomas, who made a 90ft eagle putt at the seventh in his 65.
“But Jon and I were kind of feeding off each other a little bit and just trying to stay in the tournament.”
It was a day of peaks and troughs for McIlroy, who made just three pars going out and was one over with three to play before he showed his class at the finish.
After two-putting the par-five 16th from long range, he rifled his tee shot to four feet at the 203-yard 17th before getting up and down from 90 yards for par at the 18th, knocking in a 12 footer for his 70.
Rahm admitted his ego briefly got the better of him before he recovered.
Rahm was announced on the first tee as the US Open champion, Race to Dubai leader and World No.1, only to promptly carve his tee shot way off target.
Playing partners McIlroy and Thomas were given far more understated introductions and Rahm said: “I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I’m there with Rory, great player, JT, great player, and I get announced as World No.1, Race to Dubai leader and US Open champion.
“They just said Rory McIlroy, JT, so I was just a little surprised by it. I didn’t expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard.
“I didn’t have my best feel out there but after the first tee shot, which was probably about as bad a tee shot as I can hit, feeling-wise, I just told myself really trust the visualisation process, see the shot, trust the shot and trust that your body can do it, and it really worked out. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of your own way.”
Padraig Harrington was the best of the Irish, tied for 13th after he made a 50 footer at the ninth for a four-under 67 as Cormac Sharvin dropped three shots coming home to finish tied for 73rd with McIlroy after a 70.
Graeme McDowell made just one putt outside five feet in a two-over 73 as Jonny Caldwell struggled to a 74.
Sharvin, McDowell and Caldwell are seeking spots in The Open for the top three non-exempt players to make the cut.
Seamus Power has a chance of snatching a ticket to Sandwich for the leading non-exempt player in the top five and ties at the John Deere Classic, as he extended his bogey-free run to 60 holes with a three-under 68 in Ohio.
He was just four shots behind early leaders Chez Reavie and Camilo Villegas.
In the US Senior Open, Darren Clarke opened with a four-over 74 to lie nine shots behind early leader Stephan Ames at Omaha Country Club, while Leona Maguire was eight shots behind Japan’s Nasa Hataoka after a two-under 69 in the Marathon LPGA Classic in Ohio.