Shane Lowry of Ireland in action at the 148th Open Championship. Picture: KEVIN C. COX / GETTY IMAGES
Shane Lowry of Ireland in action at the 148th Open Championship. Picture: KEVIN C. COX / GETTY IMAGES

Portrush — Home favourite Rory McIlroy’s British Open hopes were in tatters after a first-round horror show at Royal Portrush on Thursday ended with the four-times Major winner carding an eight-over 79.

All eyes were on the McIlroy as the Open returned to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years, but not only was he nowhere near the top of a leaderboard headed by Shane Lowry, he will need a golfing miracle to make the cut.

Ireland’s Lowry was the early leader on a day of wind and squally showers, mixed with dazzling sunshine, completing his opening round on the par-71 Dunluce links in 67. American Webb Simpson bogeyed the last two holes to trail by a shot on three under with Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Swede Alex Noren, SA’s Dylan Frittelli and Scotland’s Robert Macintyre, who also bogeyed the last.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot a blemish-free 68 to also reach three under. Graeme McDowell drew loud cheers from the packed galleries as he also got to three under after 14 holes on his hometown course, but he leaked five shots in the last four holes.

The 148th Open began with McDowell’s compatriot Darren Clarke striking the first tee shot on a historic morning on the Antrim coast. Clarke found three birdies in his first five holes before ending with a level-par 71.

McIlroy once scored 61 around Portrush as a teenager but began his challenge for the Claret Jug he won in 2014 like a Sunday morning amateur. He was cheered to the first tee but carded a quadruple bogey eight on the par-four opener.

His opening tee shot went out of bounds, breaking a spectator’s phone in the process. His follow-up found heavy rough and from there he struck his next shot into an unplayable lie in a bramble bush. After taking a penalty drop, McIlroy chipped on to the green.

He picked his ball out of the hole, to sympathetic applause, with an ugly eight on his card. The 30-year-old bogeyed the par-three third and although he repaired some of the damage with birdies at seven and nine, the gremlins returned. He double-bogeyed the par-three 16th and then triple-bogeyed the last before trudging off.

Defending champion Francesco Molinari also struggled to a three-over 74 while former winner Phil Mickelson was five over.

Ireland’s Lowry thrilled the crowd by making three birdies on his outward nine and taking the lead with a birdie on the 12th hole to reach four under. He was overtaken by Simpson who got to five under after 13 holes. Simpson had played immaculate golf but faltered on the 17th and 18th holes, while Lowry finished with six successive pars.

“I took my chances when I got them early on. I feel like I missed a couple at the start of my back nine, I missed a few chances. But look, I think four-under is a great score on that course and I’ll take it any day,” Lowry said.

Macintyre collected birdies on his first two holes and an eagle at the fifth. After a couple of dropped shots he birdied the 17th to move into a share of the lead before dropping back.

One of the biggest roars greeted Emiliano Grillo’s hole in-one on the par-three 13th. The 26-year-old Argentine’s ace was the first at the Open since Louis Oosthuizen in 2016.

Despite damp weather for a second successive day, fans arrived early and in number for the sold-out tournament, with the expected total attendance of 237,750 making it the best attended British Open outside of St Andrews in Scotland.

Reuters