The Open: Will Rory McIlroy be the savior of R&A’s St Andrews in the 150 Championship?

Event: St Andrew, Scotland Dates: 14-17 July
Coverage: BBC TV, radio and online, on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds, the BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport mobile app. Full coverage details.

As Rory McIlroy walked the first hole of the Old Course at St Andrews shortly after 10:00 on Thursday, a stylish, not to mention incredibly brave man in pink polka dot plus size trousers shouted his support for the Northern Irishman. .

“Go get him, Rory!” the Scream. And, Lord, how was McIlroy and he got it.

On a fast, hot track, his day of seven birdies and one bogey followed a surreal trend. This was his fifth round at a St Andrews Open and he still hasn’t shot in the 70s. In 2010, he shot 63, 80, 69, 68 and now there’s a sumptuous, almost leisurely, six-under 66 to add. To the mix.

This was his best start to an Open since 2014, when he shot 66 on Thursday at Hoylake and won on Sunday.

Here he landed monster shots: a wind-assisted 412-yard run on the 14th. He had ironclad putts: a 55-footer on the first for birdie. In almost everything he did, he was in control. He was rarely in danger.

His driving was exceptional. His setup was infallible. When he faced 80-footers and 90-footers on long surfaces, he made two easy putts and came out with birdies and pars. He was deeply impressive.

“There are little parts of the round that show you where you are with everything mentally, physically, and I came out of all those little tests today unscathed and I’m very proud of that,” he said. “It might have looked easy, but there are certain parts of the round that are challenging.

“It’s the toughest Open I’ve ever played. That’s the only way I can describe it. As the tournament goes on, you’re going to get some fun bounces and sometimes it’s going to test your patience. Fiddly really hasn’t.” he’s been my forte over the years, but I hope he’s my forte this week.”

‘McIlroy is the next best for R&A behind Woods’

This was the Rory that not only did Rory fans want to see, but most likely the R&A wanted to see as well. With this being the Open 150, they must be yearning for a champion golfer who lives up to that story, now more than ever.

No disrespect to overnight leader Cameron Young, but he’s not cutting it. Neither did Cam Smith, Kurt Kitayama or Brad Kennedy, all at the top of the leaderboard, all star performers on Thursday.

Those same officials might be saying silent ninths that it’s not one of the others floating in the rarefied air of top-10 status after the first round: the dreaded LIV set. Lee Westwood is up there, Ian Poulter is in the mix, Bryson DeChambeau is close, and so is Talor Gooch. They are not the only ones.

For the 150th Open, the R&A will dream of a name to match and the presence of mavericks minted so close to the top, despite there being a world of golf yet to be played, will be uncomfortable for the golf establishment.

A tiger would be his nirvana, but that is not happening. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and others would be totally acceptable, but McIlroy is the next best thing behind Woods. He is the kind of class act and clean ambassador they want to see with that Claret Jug. And he can win. No doubt about that.

It might have taken a grueling five hours and 44 minutes to complete, a basic frustration of life at a St Andrews Open with its gigantic double green and endless waiting on tees and fairways, but it was a joy.

Staying cool in the gridlock is a challenge in itself and it’s one that McIlroy met with a calm that made one wonder, it’s not the first time, it must be said, if this is the week his eight-week wait arrives. years for another Major. until the end.

Eight years. For a player blessed with all the required weapons, that’s a ridiculous amount of time. Twenty-three different golfers have won a major since McIlroy won the US PGA Championship in 2014, the fourth of his tour.

Zach Johnson has won a major title since then. So has Danny Willett. So have Jimmy Walker and Gary Woodland. Francesco Molinari is a more recent big winner than the perennial contender. Woods and Phil Mickelson, glorious lights of other days, did it. Even Sergio Garcia, the ever-almost-man, has crossed the line more recently than McIlroy.

If you had said that Sunday in Valhalla in 2014 that McIlroy would not win any of the next 29 major championships, people would have walked away from you with a mixture of pity and fear in their eyes.

McIlroy recently said that back then he hadn’t even heard of Collin Morikawa or Rahm. A new generation has appeared. Eight different players have won the last eight majors. It has been the narrative of McIlroy’s life for a long time. ‘When is Rory going to win another one of these things?’ has become ‘Is Rory winning another one of these things?’

“Pressure situations are a challenge for him,” said Paul McGinley, his former Ryder Cup captain.

“He doesn’t have a Plan B to switch to when things aren’t going well,” said Nick Faldo, a man who never really needed a Plan B because his Plan A was usually so good.

‘The leaderboard could hardly look better for him’

McIlroy is one of the most scrutinized golfers in recent history because he’s one of the most interesting and talented golfers we’ve ever seen. He’s also won just about everything else in those eight major-free years. A players championship, world golf titles, national open, Fed-Ex titles, Race to Dubai crowns.

The thought of him entering his ninth year without one of the most sought-after trophies in the game is staggering. Thursday made you believe that maybe I don’t have to.

“It never feels easy,” he said. “There were crucial moments in the round. I made a good birdie putt on the eighth hole, hit it three feet away. I wasn’t really that comfortable with the second putt, but I stepped forward, committed to a good putt. It’s like these little parts of the rounds that put you to the test.

“And I feel like every time the round did that to me, I was able to get through it. The golf course is playing so, so short. [on the 615-yard par-five 14th he hit driver, wedge – and his approach was long]. But it’s still complicated. It’s not like everyone is turning off the lights.”

McIlroy talked about the delays that exist, the game within the game. “It’s pretty intermittent, but I think St. Andrews is like that. There’s a lot of criss-crossing and waiting on the greens to clear up because of the manageable par fours. So I think, especially the first two days when it’s a packed course, you’d expect “.

The game is good, the mind is good, the leaderboard could hardly look better for him. Since last tasting victory on the biggest stages, McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in the majors 16 times and in the top five eight times.

“I had a shot at Carnoustie in 2018,” he said. “I played in the final group with Patrick Reed in 2018 at Augusta. He was tied for the lead with nine holes to go at Torrey Pines. [US Open, 2021]. I have had some occasions and I have not capitalized”.

It’s too soon to tell if this is the one, but it’s not too soon for its legions of fans (they’re all over the place here) to start dreaming. Another bright day on Friday and McIlroy fans will be asking for smelling salts.

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