Monday 26 February 2018

McIlroy struggles to find rhythm in British Open

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy today made a poor start to his bid to become the youngest Open champion since 1893, as veterans Thomas Bjorn and Mark Calcavecchia made the early headlines.

McIlroy came into the 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's as favourite following his record-breaking US Open victory at Congressional last month, since when he has not played competitively.

And the 22-year-old perhaps showed signs of a little rustiness when he bogeyed the opening hole, three-putting from just over the green after playing partner Rickie Fowler had holed a massive putt for birdie from an almost identical position.

McIlroy also went through the green on the second and third, saving par from six feet on the former but missing from 12ft on the latter after a poor chip.

Birdie chances went begging on the fourth, sixth and seventh, and at two over par McIlroy was already six shots adrift of surprise leader Bjorn.

Bjorn, 41, was famously joint second when the Open was last staged here in 2003, blowing a three-shot lead with four holes to play after taking three shots to escape from a greenside bunker on the 16th.

He was only sixth reserve as recently as last week before a spate of withdrawals, but was making the most of his call-up on Monday when Vijay Singh pulled out through injury.

After saving par from over the green on the downwind first, Bjorn holed from 14 feet for a birdie on the second and from close range on the seventh and eighth to pick up further shots.

A short missed putt on the ninth halted his momentum, but more birdies followed on the 12th and 14th to take the Dane two ahead of 1989 champion Mark Calcavecchia.

The 51-year-old American was in the second group out at 6:41am and had carded three birdies and just one bogey in 17 holes.

England's Danny Willett, winner of the English Amateur title on this course in 2007, had set the clubhouse target at one under par after compiling a 69 in the first group out.

Players had been struggling to even reach the seventh fairway in the strong winds on Tuesday and Wednesday, with tournament officials admitting tees would have to be moved forward if similar conditions persisted.

And that was indeed the case today on the par-three 11th, where Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald had both been unable to reach the green with a driver on Tuesday.

Bjorn still had the last four holes to play, the stretch which cost him the Claret Jug in 2003, but he need not have worried.

A pitch to four feet on the 15th brought him a birdie and a superb tee shot to the 16th set up yet another, taking him to six under par, three shots ahead of Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and 2009 winner Stewart Cink.

Calcavecchia had bogeyed the last to join Willett as clubhouse leader on one under, but with the wind remaining relatively light, it looked as though there would be plenty of better scores.

McIlroy certainly hoped so and finally carded his first birdie of the day on the eighth to improve to one over after his approach caught a slope to the left of the flag and rolled down to eight feet.

Press Association

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