ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Rory McIlroy twice drove the green on the way to matching the lowest round in a major championship, a 9-under-par 63 that gave him a three-shot lead on a birdie-filled opening day of the British Open.
The 21-year-old pro went 8-under over his final 10 holes, propelled by an eagle at the par-4 ninth hole and ending with a 3-foot birdie at the expansive 18th.
“The round was nothing special until the eagle on 9,” McIlroy said.
It became the 24th score of 63 in a major championship, last accomplished by Tiger Woods at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. McIlroy became the eighth to do it at a British Open, which hadn’t seen a 63 since both Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart did it in 1993’s final round at Royal St. George’s.
And the Northern Ireland native could have had the record all to himself, but missed a short birdie opportunity at the Road Hole 17th after two solid strikes to put himself in position.
“It sort of went through my mind at 17 that a 62 would be the lowest round in a major,” McIlroy said. “That’s probably why I missed the putt.”
Instead, he was left to join the logjam and hold a disputable Old Course record.
Curtis Strange shot 62 at the 1987 Dunhill Cup, matched by England’s Brian Davis in the same fall event in 2003. But those were thrown out when the St. Andrews Links Trust added 164 yards to the layout for the 2005 Open.
Bradley Dredge held the contemporary course record, shooting 64 at the 2006 Dunhill Links.
“You’re never going to get St. Andrews playing any easier,” McIlroy said. “I was very happy to take advantage of these conditions.”
Former Open champion John Daly and Andrew Coltart provided McIlroy’s closest pursuit after carding 66s. They were joined by Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson Hed, who was 6-under through 12.
McIlroy broke out of a humdrum start by ripping driver at the 352-yard ninth hole, watching intently as his ball cleared a bunker guarding the green’s left front. He then finished the job with flair, draining the 20-foot eagle chance.
That ignited a run in which the Ulsterman played his next six holes in 5-under par, chasing down and eventually passing Daly. He also drove the green at the 348-yard 12th hole, but couldn’t duplicate the eagle and settled for birdie instead.
McIlroy also birdied Nos. 14 and 16, setting him on pace to take a run at the majors scoring record.