McIlroy brings Old Course to its knees with 63

Rory McIlroy took an early lead during the first round of the British Open.


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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – I want to be Rory McIlroy, who shot a 9-under 63 in the opening round of the British Open.

I want to make an eagle and thirst for more. I want to make a birdie and die for more.

McIlroy was 1 under through eight holes. “Nothing special,” he labeled it. Then he notched an eagle at No. 9 and added birdies at 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15. That’s 7 under par in seven holes.

Hey, Rory, what happened at 13? You really blew it there, settling for an ordinary par.

After missing a 3-foot birdie putt at 17, he left himself another 3-foot birdie putt at 18, making that one.

“It sort of went through my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major,” he said. “That’s probably why I missed the putt.”

McIlroy turned 21 in April, and there is an innocence about him that is quite charming. He sounds to me like a 12-year-old with a slightly advanced vocabulary.

Age, though, has nothing to do with the special talent possessed by this native of Northern Ireland. He possesses superb ballstriking skills, but the best thing about him is his ability to go low – his barefaced desire to keep making birdies and eagles.

“I mean, all you’re thinking about is just trying to go 6 under, 7 under,” he said. “I mean, you’re just trying to go lower and lower. No sort of negative thoughts come into your head at all.”

Oh, really? Most golfers don’t have this gift of aggression. Most of us become defensive, trying to protect our score when we make a birdie or two.

McIlroy is very unusual. He won the Quail Hollow Championship on the PGA Tour this year after shooting 32-30 in the final round. Here in the first round of the British Open, he had 33-30.

Call him the master of the back nine, the man-boy who never backs down from a low score. In nine tournament rounds at St. Andrews during his amateur and professional career, McIlroy has shot 69-69-67-68-67-68-65-69-63.

It was the eagle at 9 that supercharged his opening round. He hit a driver to 15 feet on the 352-yard hole, then sank the putt.

“I mean, I was actually trying to go left of the two bunkers in the middle of the fairway but pushed it a little bit,” he admitted, “and hit it well enough that I was able to carry the bunkers and just run up onto the green.”

I mean, way to go, Rory!

So how do we, the hackers of the world, become more like Rory McIlroy?

Just hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation, as he did Thursday. Other first-round McIlroy stats: 13 of 16 fairways hit, 28 total putts, 311-yard average driving distance.

Oh, is that all?

One more thing: It helps to have a best friend who is a major champion. McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, both grew up playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Even though McDowell is nine years older, they are close mates.

“I mean, I said I wouldn’t like to be the only Irishman at the Ryder Cup without a major,” McIlroy joked, referring to McDowell and Padraig Harrington. “No, I mean, Graeme’s win definitely gave me a lot of belief and a lot of confidence, knowing if he can go out and win a major the way he did, there’s no reason why I can’t go out and have good chances to win some of the others.”

Is he ready to win a major at 21?

“You know, I always thought maybe another two or three or four years of development in my game, I’d be ready to challenge for majors,” he said. “But seeing Graeme win at Pebble Beach made me realize that it might not be as far away as I thought it was.”

Let’s see: Sunday is three days away.

Few would be surprised if McIlroy won this British Open.

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