PORTRUSH, United Kingdom (AFP) – Home favorite Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods both endured dreadful starts to the British Open on Thursday, while American JB Holmes claimed the lead as the championship returned to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
Organizers the R&A are anticipating the second-biggest ever Open attendance, with 237,750 people expected to come through the gates this week in Northern Ireland, but spectators were left stunned by McIlroy’s immediate collapse.
He briefly battled back after a bogey at the par-three third hole, but missed a tiny putt to double-bogey the 16th, tripled-bogeyed the last and eventually carded a disastrous eight-over 79.
“I guess when you play your first and last holes in a combined seven over par you are starting on the back foot,” said McIlroy.
The four-time major champion, who fired a course-record 61 at Portrush at the age of just 16 in 2005, was given a huge reception on the first tee as the crowds huddled around the opening hole for a sight of the local hero.
But he quadrupled-bogeyed the first after hitting his tee shot out of bounds.
Woods saw his bid for a 16th major title all but come to a premature end as he stuttered to a miserable seven-over 78, including six bogeys and a double bogey at the par-three sixth.
The Masters champion’s sole birdie of the day came at the par-four 15th, which he celebrated with an ironic raise of his arms, but he fittingly finished his round with one last bogey.
Woods, who returned from spinal fusion surgery in December 2017, and McIlroy now face daunting tasks to try and make the cut.
McIlroy is already 13 strokes adrift of leader Holmes – with Woods one better off – after the 37-year-old birdied the 18th to post an excellent five-under 66 and move one shot clear of previous leader Shane Lowry.
Holmes’ previous best major finish was third at the 2016 Open and he has missed eight cuts in his last 13 events, and withdrew from one of the others.
“I’ve been practising the last couple of weeks. I’ve been playing great. So actually felt great coming in,’’ said the 55th-ranked Holmes.
Ireland’s Lowry held the lead for much of the day before being toppled by Holmes, having to settle for second place heading into Friday.