McIlroy sets pace at Open and vows to kick up storm

 
Frank Dalleres
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FORMER world No1 Rory McIlroy insists he is ready to cope with whatever the elements throw at him after he made the most of perfect Hoylake conditions to take a first-round lead at the Open yesterday.

McIlroy’s masterful 66 means he begins today six under par, one stroke ahead of Italian Matteo Manassero and two clear of a group including Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, both Molinari brothers and Jim Furyk.

Tiger Woods, who won the Open when it was last held at this venue eight years ago, recovered from a poor start to card a three-under-par 69.

Northern Irishman McIlroy profited from a windless morning at Royal Liverpool, but, having grown up on the links of Portrush, feels capable of defending his advantage if, as feared, the weather turns today.

“I’ve seen that there could be some weather moving in, and high winds and maybe a bit of rain, maybe a couple of thunderstorms,” said McIlroy, who has repeatedly spoiled flying starts with poor second rounds.

“But I feel like I’m well prepared this week for whatever the conditions. I’ve practiced in windy conditions the last few weeks. I’ve practiced the shots that I might need for a bad day like tomorrow might be.”

McIlroy made a blistering start in seaside conditions last week at the Scottish Open, setting a new course record of 64 at Royal Aberdeen, only to card a 78 the following day and finish tied for 14th.

“It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before,” the two-time Major winner said. “I’m used to doing that, I just haven’t done it recently. We’ll see what [Friday] brings and what weather it is and try to handle it as best I can.”

Manassero, 21, is without a win since the PGA Championship at Wentworth 14 months ago, but followed his fourth place at the Scottish Open with a strong, if erratic, round featuring seven birdies and two bogeys.

Garcia and Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were among the early starters who enjoyed still conditions, the latter landing an eagle at the par-five 18th to join his brother in the group on four under.

Pre-tournament favourite Justin Rose, looking to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992, and last year’s runner-up Henrik Stenson carded par rounds as the breeze picked up.

Former world No1 Woods, playing only his second tournament since back surgery in March and seeking a first Major for six years, bogeyed the first two holes but recovered his poise to stay in touch at the scene of his emotional 2006 triumph. “It wasn’t exactly the greatest of starts but I turned it around and ground my way round,” he said.

England’s Lee Westwood was one under, but countryman Luke Donald and last month’s US Open winner Martin Kaymer were one over, along with world No5 Matt Kuchar and No6 Jason Day. Defending champion Phil Mickelson was two over par with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

Shaken two-time Open champion Ernie Els three-putted at the first after hitting an elderly spectator in the face with his tee-shot, and carded a 79.