ST. ANDREWS, Scotland » In the 137 years since the British Open first came to St. Andrews, the Old Course rarely has been such a pushover. Rarer still was the score Rory McIlroy delivered.
Whether it was the luck of the draw or his tantalizing talent really didn’t matter.
In conditions so calm that not a hair on his considerable mop was out of place, McIlroy set off on an incredible run into the record book yesterday with a 9-under 63 that gave him a two-shot lead.
"Going out there this morning with no wind, you’re never going to get St. Andrews playing any easier," McIlroy said.
It was just as easy for John Daly, a former champion at St. Andrews and now the ultimate long shot. He first energized the gallery by bashing tee shots and making enough birdies for a 66, matching his best score in the British Open.
And it was just as easy for Tiger Woods, who ran off three straight birdies late in his round for a 67.
There were 45 rounds in the 60s, 73 players broke par, and the average score was under par — 71.75.
No one took advantage like McIlroy, a 21-year-old from Northern Ireland with a game beyond his years. His 63 tied the lowest score in any major, and it was only the second such score at St. Andrews in golf’s oldest championship.
Of the eight players who have shot 63 in the British Open, McIlroy is the only one to do it in the first round.
"I’m very happy that I was able to take advantage of those conditions," said McIlroy, who had a two-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. "And it gives me a little bit of a buffer going into the next three days, whatever weather comes our way."
It sure didn’t feel easy in the afternoon.
Not long after McIlroy finished his round, the leaden skies over St. Andrews Bay brought showers to the Old Course and a breeze that picked up strength the rest of the afternoon.
Of the 16 players atop the leaderboard, only Peter Hanson (66), Bradley Dredge (66), Lee Westwood (67) and Y.E. Yang (67) teed off after the wind showed up at noon.
"The difference for the early and late starters was huge," Westwood said. "You could have kicked it ’round in a low score this morning. The course was defenseless, and I actually expected somebody to post a 62. I don’t think I have ever known St. Andrews as calm. Hopefully, we might get a break with the weather tomorrow morning, but you never know."
Phil Mickelson didn’t make a birdie in the afternoon until making an 8-foot putt on the last hole for a 73, and walked off the course without speaking to reporters.
McIlroy’s amazing run began with a drive that he hit onto the green at the 352-yard ninth hole to about 15 feet below the hole. He knocked that in for birdie and was on his way. The freckle-face kid followed with a sand wedge to 6 feet on the 10th for birdie, a 7-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 11th, and two putts from 50 feet on the short 12th hole.
It was so low — and so there for the taking — that even after a record-tying round, he thought about the one that got away.
McIlroy was 8 under when he flew his approach dangerously close over the Road Hole bunker on the 17th, leaving him a 5-foot birdie putt. Make that, and he goes to the 357-yard 18th with a shot at 62.
"It sort of went through my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major," McIlroy said. "That’s probably why I missed the putt."
Oosthuizen looked as though he might have a chance to join McIlroy. He also was at 8 under playing the 17th until making a bogey, then failed to pick up a stroke on the last hole and settled for a 65.
Not often does someone open with a 65 in a major and trail by two shots. This was not a typical opening round in a major.
"It just goes to show you that the golf course could have been had," Woods said. "When I was playing either 17 or 18, to be in the top 10 you had to be 5 under. You don’t see that at too many majors."