Tiger Woods has backed Rory McIlroy to succeed him as king of golf one day.
But that day could come sooner than he thinks after the 21-year old Ulsterman shot the lowest opening round in Open history - a nine under par, course record 63 - to lead the 105th Anniversary Open Championship by two shots from South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen.
Finishing the job will be the toughest task of McIlroy’s career but the Holywood idol has proved that there is nothing he can’t do if he puts his mind to it.
As playing partner Lucas Glover put it: “After a 63 at St Andrews, he’s capable of just about anything.”
On a course where he had never failed to break 70 in eight previous visits either as an amateur or professional – he’s now 43-under with a scoring average of 67.22 after rounds of 69 69 67 68 67 68 65 69 and 63 - the 21-year-old equalled the lowest round in major history.
It could easily have been the first 62 but after a glorious six iron to three feet at the Road Hole 17th, he lost his focus thinking about the enormity of what he might achieve and lipped out.
“It sort of went through my mind that 62 would have been the lowest - that’s probably why I missed the putt,” said McIlroy, who pitched to three feet at the last for the seventh birdie of a round that exploded into life when he converted a 15 footer for an eagle two at the ninth to turn in three under 33.
After coming home in 30, following his birdie at the third and that eagle at the ninth with further birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 18th, he said: “It’s amazing - the only thing that came into my head was watching Tiger at the (2007) US PGA in Tulsa and he lipped out for 62.
“It was a fantastic score. I didn’t get off to a flying start. I was one under through eight holes and then the eagle on nine really sort of turned things around for me and I just got going from there. You know, it was great to get into the rhythm of the round and get into a flow. And yeah, it was a very pleasant round of golf.”
Describing his birdie at the last, he added: “It sort of made up for 17 a little bit. It would have been lovely to shoot 62, but I can’t really complain.”
Five years ago this week, a 16 year old McIlroy stunned the Irish golfing world by carding a course record 61 in the North of Ireland Amateur Open at Royal Portrush.
His latest course record will go down in history and it could well prove to be a watershed in a career that promises to be sensational.
Comparing his 63 to the 61 at Portrush, he said: “I think (this one) is the most special just because it’s at St Andrews and it’s the Open Championship. I think the 61 was probably slightly better, if I’m honest.
“I don’t know if it was because I was 16. To shoot 61 around Portrush, especially with the reputation that Portrush has back home, to go and shoot a score like that on it was pretty nice. But this is definitely up there.
“It’s nice to put my name on the few guys that have shot 63 in majors. It would have been lovely to shoot 62, but I can’t really complain.”