McIlroy shows true grit

Rory McIlroy was forced to battle hard in the first round of the Open at Santwich. Pictured here at Congressional by Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieIt wasn’t quite the stellar round that many expected from the “new Tiger” but Rory McIlroy was still pleased to claw his way back into the Open after a shaky start at a windy Royal St George’s.

The US Open champion endured the worst of the wind as he headed out with Ernie Els and Ricky Fowler in the marquee group at 9.09am, bouncing back from two over after three holes to open with a one over par 71 that left him tied 51st at the end of a marathon opening day.

“I struggled a bit with my speed all day on the greens, but it was a day where you just needed to grind out a score and anywhere around even par was a good start,” said McIlroy, who was pleased not to blow himself out of the championship.

“On a day like this - I know better than most people - you can shoot a high number and put yourself out of the golf tournament, so it was nice to go out and shoot a decent score.

“I feel like if you keep it around level par this week you’re going to have a good chance.”

Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell shot winderful 68s as Padraig Harrington continued to battle his mental demons with a three over 73.

McIlroy’s round was uneventful by comparison but it was another important milestone for the 22-year old who captured the imagination of golf fans worldwide when he bounced back from his Masters disappointment to win the US Open by eight shots.

While he was overwhelmed by the support he received, he put a tough start behind him to finish the day just six shots behind leaders Thomas Bjorn and amateur sensation Tom Lewis.

“The support was great. I probably didn’t take it in as much as I could have - I was just trying to concentrate on that first tee shot and get that out of the way.

“But it’s fantastic and hopefully I can give them something to shout about. I felt relatively calm surprisingly. Usually I do get a few first-tee nerves, but I felt good.”

He three putted the opening hole from a swale behind the green and then bogeyed the 240-yard, par three third when his tee shot kicked off a downslope and ran through the back of the green into deep rough.

He then missed birdie chances at the sixth and seventh before picking up his first birdie of the day at the eighth where he hit a two iron down the middle and a controlled approach to eight feet into a right to left crosswind.

A bogey at the 13th left him well down the field on two over but he birdied the 17th from 10 feet to escape a tough day with a respectable score.

“I was patient, really patient out there - mentally I was very good,” he said. “I felt I could have hit it in the fairway a bit more. I missed a few and from there you can’t really give yourself many chances for birdies.

“I holed a few nice putts for par in the middle of the round and that’s what you need to do, especially in majors and when you’re in tough conditions like this.

“I don’t feel as if I have to do that much differently. I just need to keep it tight and just take your birdies here and there.

“It was definitely a round after the start that could have got away from me and it was nice to hang onto it.”