McIlroy’s third, his chip up onto the green, doesn’t spin at all and trundles well past the hole. That’d be about right. He bears his teeth, frustrated and angry with himself. He’ll be left with an eight-foot par putt coming back. It’s a tricky tickle down the green, with a gentle left-to-right slide. He makes it, and fist-pumps the air, knowing full well a bogey there would have been beyond preposterous after that drive. Par, and he stays at -2. As does Rahm. But Fowler can’t get up and down to save his par, so he slips back to -1.
Rory McIlroy has just hit a 351-yard drive straight down the middle of 11. Imagine if he could putt like Steve Stricker! Anyway, he’s got about 90 yards left to the flag. And he gets a ludicrous amount of spin on his approach, his ball toppling back off the false front of the green, back down the fairway. What a farcical second after such a stunning drive. Fowler and Rahm will also be scrambling for their pars, with nobody reaching this green in regulation. Meanwhile bogey for Bud Cauley on 6; he’s back to -2. Kevin Kisner has reached the turn in 33 after birdies at 6, 7 and 8. Ryan Fox is -2 through his first seven holes, with birdies at 14 and 16.
A hole-in-one for Joost Luiten at 4! He lands his tee shot ten feet in front of the hole, the ball takes one bounce, hits the flagstick and drops straight into the cup! Wham! Luiten was +7 before hitting that shot. A dreadful day has suddenly got a whole lot better. The unique beauty of golf, right there.
Rory flips high from the back of 10. For a second, it looked as though he’d seriously overcooked it, and the ball might roll way past the flag and down the slope. But he’s landed it so softly on the hard green, and it bites six feet from the hole. Another few joules of energy, and that might have toppled off the front. Phew. His third birdie in four holes! Jon Rahm’s third isn’t much cop, a weak chip, and that’s a two-putt par. But it’s another birdie for Fowler, who bumps his third to 12 feet and strokes in the putt. His fifth birdie of the day. And all of these amazing young talents are -2 for the tournament!
The entertainers batter three huge drives down the long par-five 10th. Rahm the shortest for once, at 301 yards. He can’t reach the green in two. Neither can Fowler. But McIlroy sends his 3-wood over the back! Just off the back, in fairness; that was a pearler. Up on the same green, just before, Mickelson’s woes continued as he leaves a weak flap of a sand shot in the bunker. He nearly holes his second attempt to escape, hitting the flagstick, but that’s three bogeys on the bounce. He’s +5. Meanwhile the Green Mile has taken a chunk out of Byeong Hun An; bogey at 16, and now another dropped shot at 18. He’s back to -1. And Matt Kuchar misses yet another tiddler; this one drops him back to level par. He should be a couple of strokes better than that, at least.
McIlroy splits 9 with his drive, but hits a dismal wedge into the green. A long two putts, and that’s a par, but he should at least have given himself chance of birdie from that position. His short irons into the green have been uncharacteristically poor of late. He reaches the turn in 34, as does Rickie Fowler, who birdies for the fourth time today. Four birdies and a triple! You’ve got to admire the way he’s bounced back since that meltdown on 5. As for Jon Rahm: he nearly slam-dunks his approach into the cup for a two-bounce eagle. But it lands an inch to the right of the hole, and that’s just a birdie. He turns in 33, two off the lead at -2. This group is giving the punters bang for their buck. Rory hands his golf ball to a young girl, who turns and positively beams at her mother as she shows off her prize. It’s a lovely, warm, sweet moment. The simple things, the small stuff.
It’s just not happening for Phil Mickelson. One of the greatest chippers the world has ever seen sends a wedge from the fringe 20 feet past the hole at 9. That’s his fourth bogey of the day, following dropped shots at 1, 4, 8 and 9. Out in 39, and at +4 already will be worried about missing the cut for the second major championship in a row. Is time catching up with Lefty at last? The duel with Henrik Stenson at Troon is in danger of turning into a valedictory outlier.
Rory isn’t the only Northern Irish player making an early statement here. The 2010 US Open champ Graeme McDowell has just birdied 15 to move to -1. Daniel Berger birdies 6 to join him at that mark. Meanwhile further up the leader board, DA Points registers back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15; he’s -2. And the 27-year-old Floridian Bud Cauley rattles in a long one on 3. That’s his third birdie in the last four holes, and he’s suddenly -3, in a share of second spot!
-4: Olesen (F)
-3: Murray (F), Woodland (F), Koepka (F), Stroud (F), Cauley (12*)
-2: Finau (F), Herman (F), Reed (F), Casey (F), An (8*), Points (7*)
Rahm is very close to rolling a 30-foot right-to-left slider into the cup. It’s a few dimples away from dropping, a lovely touch. He remains at -1. Fowler never gives his birdie putt enough on the left; it’s always going to die away on the right. He stays at level par. And then Rory rolls in his birdie putt to move to -1. A rickety old start for McIlroy in many respects, but suddenly he’s just three off the lead. Meanwhile birdie for Matt Kuchar at 7; he’s -1, and has only parred two holes so far today.
Fowler and Rahm take the safe play at the risk-reward par-four 8th: irons off the tee. Rory decides to go for the green with driver. He doesn’t quite make it, but his ball splits the fairway and he’ll have a short one coming in. Fowler knocks his second pin high to 12 feet; Rahm finds the green but he’s well short of the flag. And finally Rory, the best part of 90 yards ahead. He’s left with a dainty bump-and-run from 20 yards or so. And he plays it exquisitely, the ball screeching to a halt three feet from the flag. A huge birdie opportunity.
McIlroy claps a long iron straight at the flag at 7. He’ll have a look at eagle from 18 feet, and he’ll get a read of the right-to-left curler from Jon Rahm, who has a go first from twice the distance. A solid two-putt birdie takes Rahm to -1. McIlroy doesn’t hit his eagle effort, though he has it dead on line, and has to settle for birdie. He slashes his putter through the air in frustration, but he’s back to level par at least. As is Rickie Fowler, who now has three birdies and a triple on his card so far. An eventful seven holes, all told. Meanwhile Byeong Hun An pulls a short putt to the left of the cup at 16, and he drops back to -2. Birdie for Ryan Moore at 5; he’s -1.
McIlroy and Rahm batter monster drives down 7. Fowler’s clatters the trees to the left, but bounces down into the first cut. That’s a fortunate break. Not so lucky, in the group ahead, was poor old Lefty, who pulled his drive into the drink down the right. He drops, then lays up … and after a long think, caresses a trademark wedge to three feet to scramble his par. He remains at +2. Slow starts also for Matthew Fitzpatrick, who is +2 through 7, and the much-fancied Justin Rose, who only bows to Rory McIlroy in his average score around here; he’s +2 through 6. And bogey for Matt Kuchar at 6, another short putt yipped; it’s been an up-and-down nonsense for the ever-smiling Open nearly man. He’s level par again.
Birdie for Matt Kuchar at 5. Having missed a tiddler at 3 to shed the shot he’d picked up at 2, that’s brought him back to -1. Byeong Hun An misses a short birdie putt at 15; he stays at -3 but the Green Mile is coming up.
The defending champion Jimmy Walker has been struggling all year, having been diagnosed in April with Lyme disease, and he’s struggling today. Four bogeys in the first six holes, and already weekend participation is in question for the king of Baltusrol. Meanwhile Rory McIlroy looks a gift horse in the mouth on the long par-three 6th. A slightly pulled tee shot skips over a bunker and nestles in the fringe. Then he completely duffs the chip, the ball only just making it onto the green. He’s left with a 20-footer for his par. He rattles it six feet past the hole, and does very well to knock the bogey putt back in. He’s +1, and the bounce in his step has gone. Some silly mistakes have completely jiggered a decent start.
News of Beef. Everyone loves Beef, but few would have enjoyed watching him struggle today. A miserable seven-over 78, which would have been even worse were it not for a birdie on 7 towards the end of his round. Home-town hero Davis Love III, the 1997 champion, also signed for a 78. As did Andy Sullivan. But some cheering news to end his otherwise miserable dispatch: birdie for Texan journeyman Chris Stroud at 18, and that’s a three-under 68!
Shaun Micheel, who won this tournament in 2003 and came runner up in 2006, is going well yet again! The 48-year-old Floridian chips in from a greenside bunker at the par-five 15th. That’s an eagle, and he’s -1 for his round. But some sand-based trouble for Rickie Fowler at 5. He drives into a fairway bunker, then hits the lip with his attempted escape, the ball coming back towards him. Having tried to steal too many yards with the first sand shot, he takes his medicine this time, splashing out … but only into the rough, and he sends his fourth through the green. He can’t get up and down from the back, and suddenly that’s a triple-bogey 7 out of nowhere. After back-to-back birdies! He’s +1. Meanwhile a long two-putt par from the front of the green for McIlroy, while Rahm sends his second to eight feet, but lets the birdie putt slip by on the right.
The former Masters and Open champion Zach Johnson has signed for a level-par 71. David Lingmerth of Sweden was going well, until he bogeyed 7 and doubled 8; he ends with a one-over 72. Meanwhile Graham DeLaet was going nicely, having opened with birdies at 10 and 11, then parred his way to 17. His tee shot at the treacherous par-three is one of the shots of the day, to ten feet, but he doesn’t hit the straight birdie putt and a chance to move to -3, and a share of second with Murray, Woodland, Koepka and An, goes begging.
McIlroy sends a high lob onto the green, but the margin for error is minuscule. Too far onto the downward-sloping putting surface, and his ball will trundle miles past the hole. In the event, he doesn’t commit and leaves it 12 feet short, and can’t guide in a tricky left-to-right breaker. Bogey, and he drops back to level par. Rahm can’t get up and down from the sand; he’s back to level, too. But good news for Fowler, who gets the reward his tee shot deserves. In plops the short putt, and he’s -2 already, looking very solid and determined.
Trouble for McIlroy at 4. One club too many, and his tee shot bounds straight through the green and into deep nonsense down the back. He’ll do incredibly well to get up and down from there for his par. Rickie Fowler clips a beautiful one to six feet; Jon Rahm slam-dunks his in sand to the right. McIlroy and Rahm enjoy a joke as they make their way to the green, despite it all. Par finally for birdie machine An, at 13. Meanwhile there’s another dropped shot for Mickelson, this time at 4, and his 100th major isn’t going to plan.
Another birdie for An! This one at 12, and that’s three out of three. At this rate he’ll beat Branden Grace’s new major-championship record of 62 by a mere nine shots. Just the 15 holes to go, huh. Elsewhere, a couple of chip-ins to report. And they’re big! Matt Kuchar from the front of 2: he’s -1. As is Rory McIlroy, who can’t hold the 3rd green from the rough down the left, but dinks a delicious effort into the cup from just off the back, the right-hand edge of the hole sucking the ball down. Birdies for Rahm and Fowler, too, after fine approaches. All three stars in the afternoon marquee group are -1.
What a finish to the round for Thorbjorn Olesen! He finds the heart of 18 with a crisp iron. Safe and sound on a hole that’s caused so many so much trouble. And then he curls in a 25-foot left-to-right putt for birdie! That’s some response to dropping a stroke on 17, on this very difficult closing hole. He signs for a 67, and the big Dane – who finished high at the 2012 Open and 2013 Masters as a very young man – leads the way! Meanwhile a fast birdie-birdie start by Byeong Hun An sends the 25-year-old South Korean to the fringes of the leaderboard.
-4: Olesen (F)
-3: Murray (F), Woodland (F), Koepka (F)
-2: Finau (F), Herman (F), Reed (F), Casey (F), Stroud (15), DeLaet (6*), An (2)
Fowler lags up from distance to a couple of feet. A quiet par-par start; no fuss, and very little drama. McIlroy pushes a very poor birdie putt to the right; from the moment it left his putter, that was clearly never dropping. His shoulder briefly slip into Birkdale Mode: slump. Though that’s not as bad as Rahm’s egregious prod at the hole; it slips by to the right and the pair have to settle for pars as well. In a strange way, it’ll be Fowler who will be feeling best about himself now. He hasn’t given himself a look at birdie yet, but he hasn’t missed a simple putt for one either.
Another big drive by McIlroy, down 2, and he sends his second from 174 yards to ten feet. He gives his club a satisfying twirl and strides off down the fairway. Then it’s the turn of Rahm, who creams his approach to six feet. Even better. Fowler is safely on the green in a couple of strokes, though in a much less spectacular fashion. Rory and Rickie enjoy a long chat as they make their way towards the green, a couple of pals enjoying a few holes. Not a bad way to earn a living.
Thorbjorn Olesen’s tee shot at 17 is short and wide right of the green, down the swale to the side. He’ll have a job getting that up and down. He bundles a heavy-handed chip past the cup and off the other side of the green. Two putts and that’s a bogey that puts him back into the clubhouse leaders Murray, Woodland and Koepka at -3.
Coming behind: Rory, Rickie and Rahm. The 2012 and 2014 champion finds the heart of the green with his approach, but Rahm overdoes his, sending his ball into the thick stuff at the back, while Fowler can only find more sand. Fowler splashes to four feet, Rahm lobs to six. McIlroy very nearly guides in a gentle right-to-left curler from 20 feet. Pars all round, but it’ll be McIlroy who looks the most chipper, having very nearly birdied a very difficult opening hole. There’s a bounce in his step. It’s a marked contrast to his demeanour at Birkdale, put it that way.
Up on the 1st green, a bit of trouble for Phil Mickelson, who had overclubbed with his approach. Left in thick cabbage on a hillock at the back of the green, he sends a most unMickelsonesque lob miles past the hole. A good two putts, and that’s just a bogey; it could have been a lot worse. He’s out there with the defending champion Jimmy Walker and the 2013 champ Jason Dufner, who both bogey as well. Meanwhile Jason Day and Dustin Johnson sign for one-under 70s. That’s a sensational result for Day, who was adrift at +3 at one point, but found two birdies and an eagle at 7 on the way home.
The leader Thorbjorn Olesen was in trouble all the way down 16, the result of an errant drive. But a staunch 20-footer scrambles his par, and he stays at -3. Gary Woodland signs for a 68. And back on the first tee, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm send rare old blooters down the track. Rickie Fowler’s shorter drive leaks into sand down the left. What a grouping this promises to be.
Spieth’s birdie effort stays out, about ten dimples too wide on the left. That’s a one-over 72, and he’s not played himself out of contention yet. That late rally could prove quite important. Sergio meanwhile has to settle for a 75, his round ruined by the Green Mile, three holes which cost him five shots. A 68 for Brooks Koepka, though, equalling Grayson Murray’s best of day. Some other admin regarding the morning starters: 69s for Tony Finau, Jim Herman, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey; 70s for Hideki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood and Sung Kang, who is beginning to blossom on the PGA Tour. A 73 for the much-fancied Justin Thomas. And Russell Knox, the very early leader of this tournament this morning, ends up with a disappointing 77, alongside the out-of-touch Bubba Watson, whose year goes from bad to worse.
So much for that five-way lead. Thorbjorn Olesen has just followed up birdie at 14 with another at the par-five 15th, getting up and down from behind a bunker with a lovely flop to a couple of feet. He’s out on his own at -4, though he’s about to traverse the Green Mile. Up on 18, Jordan Spieth sends a loose drive out to the left, but gets a friendly bounce back onto the fairway, then takes advantage by lashing a gorgeous 4-iron straight at the flag from 220-odd yards. He’ll have 20 feet coming back for a birdie and a level-par 71.
Some stunning wedges into the short par-four 8th by the Open champions of America and Britain. Jordan Spieth clips his to a couple of feet; Koepka sends his screeching to a halt six inches from the cup. That’s four birdies in the last six holes for Koepka, and back-to-back birdies for Spieth. They’re -3 and +1 respectively. Jim Herman has just bogeyed 17, so that’s Koepka with a five-way share of the lead.
-3: Murray (F), Herman (17), Koepka (17*), Woodland (16), Olesen (14)
Many thanks to Gregg, a gentleman and a scholar. Shall we check the top of the leaderboard? Where Jim Herman has birdied 15, Thorbjorn Olesen has birdied 14, Louis Oosthuizen has eagled 15, and local lad Grayson Murray has grabbed the clubhouse lead with a 68? Yeah, why not.
-4: Herman (16)
-3: Murray (F), Woodland (16), Olesen (14)
-2: Finau (F), Reed (17*), Casey (17*), Koepka (16*), Oosthuizen (15), Stroud (12), DeLaet (2*)