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British Open Day 1 Recap: McIlroy posts 6-under 66 to lead at Hoylake

Paul Childs / Action Images

Rory McIlroy took advantage of a windless Hoylake on Thursday, posting a 6-under 66 to lead by one after the first round of the 2014 British Open.

Current Leaderboard

  • 1. Rory McIlroy -6
  • 2. Matteo Manassero -5
  • T3. Brooks Koepka -4
  • T3. Francesco Molinari -4
  • T3. Edoardo Molinari -4
  • T3. Adam Scott -4
  • T3. Jim Furyk -4
  • T3. Sergio Garcia -4
  • T3. Shane Lowry -4
  • T10. Tiger Woods -3

The Conditions

Most links courses, Hoylake included, require wind to be present to provide a defense against the world's best players. When the wind doesn't blow, or blows lightly like it did Thursday, scoring tends to be low and that's exactly what we saw in the opening round. It was extremely easy in the morning, and if you look at the leaderboard, most of the players that are sitting at the top are the ones who got the early start and will now get the afternoon times for their second rounds on Friday.

The Leaders

Rory McIlroy: Curtis Strange said at the top of the broadcast that Rory's one of the few players in the world that can win a tournament like this with less than his best stuff, and he's right, but the performance Rory put on during his round Thursday was impressive. With the easier conditions, he was super aggressive with his approaches and didn't really hit any shots that caused any stress. The thought process with him is that he hits the ball too high to be really effective in links golf, but that didn't really matter Thursday with how the course played and he took advantage. The big story with him recently has been the abnormal second-round scoring, where he's actually five shots worse than his opening rounds since Augusta, which is something no one can seem to explain. A solid second round of even par or 1-under would do wonders for Rory this week.

Related: PHOTOS: The best pictures from the British Open 1st round

Matteo Manassero: Since Manassero plays almost exclusively in Europe, he doesn't receive the same kind of praise as players like Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama, but at 21, he's won four times on the European Tour, including the BMW PGA at Wentworth, a flagship event. It's already his fourth Open, and the key for him is going to be his short game since he is not one of the longer hitters in the field. Hitting 15 of 18 greens, with a chip-in for birdie and 28 putts is pretty solid. The 5-under 67 is his best ever round in 37 tries at a major championship.

Tiger's Major Return

When Tiger Woods surprised everyone by announcing his return from back surgery a few weeks ago at Congressional, he clearly had his eyes on this tournament. He was always going to try and get some reps in before coming over to Hoylake, and even though he missed the cut at Congressional, everyone knows that his focus is always on the majors and, outside of some early stumbles, Tiger was solid Thursday. He opened with a pair of bogeys, but he played the final 14 holes in 5-under par, including a stretch of five birdies in six holes from 11 to 16 where he looked every bit as good as the player who won 14 major championships from 1997-2008.

Related: Tiger Watch: Woods birdies 5 last 9 to finish 1st round 3-under

He was knocking in putts or just missing, but it was his ball striking that was really impressive. From just about every distance, his approaches were landing pin high and even the ones that missed the green were never so far off that he was left with a difficult pitch or chip. The most surprising thing was that he was actually drawing the ball instead of cutting it, using it as his preferred shot shape for the first time in years. The cut was still there too though, which is scary for the field if he has both under control.

Perhaps most importantly though is that there was never any sign of back pain or distress. It's been a long time since Tiger has played this complete of a round, and at three shots back, he's in great shape to put pressure on the leaders Friday.

Other Notes

  • The internal out of bounds was an interesting tidbit that came out of event previews this week, and both Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson were penalized for being slightly offline. It's only going to be an issue on the third and 18th holes, but as you can see from the below image, it's not far off from the actual fairways. Mickelson didn't even think he was close to the OB on 18, so this is going to be something to watch over the next few days.
  • Factory worker John Singleton was the big early story Thursday. Singleton, who works only 10 minutes away from the course, qualified for the event using a friend's clubs and even though he finished the day at 6-over par, he was a joy to watch early on in the coverage.
  • Really strong 4-under par round from Sergio Garcia, who is still looking for that elusive first major championship. The same goes for the Molinari brothers.
  • Jason Day doesn't look like someone who should be continuing. At several points on Thursday, Day looked to be in severe pain, clutching at his hand and wrist before and after shots. It's unclear as to what the problem is, but he did miss a significant chunk of time earlier this season with a thumb problem.
  • After the round, Mickelson said that he hit the ball better on Thursday than he had in "well over a year." His ball striking was solid, but the putter was just awful and Mickelson ended up with a 74.
  • Video of the day? Henrik Stenson doing his best Bo Jackson impersonation on one of his wedges.
  • Bubba Watson and Ernie Els played alongside Mickelson on Thursday and both had awful rounds, finishing at +4 and +7 respectively. Watson seemed to be distracted by crowds in the fairways, while Els' day got off to a horrendous start when he hit a spectator on the first hole, allegedly causing heavy blood loss. Els proceeded to three-putt the first from about 10 inches and never got it together.
  • Sixty-four players are at even par or better and within six shots of McIlroy's lead.
  • The big thing to watch Friday is the weather, as heavy rain and wind is expected in the morning, meaning that the players who got the worst of it Thursday are likely going to get the bad end of the draw again Friday. That's a major advantage for the afternoon wave, most notably McIlroy who should have a great chance to extend his lead.

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