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McIlroy makes nightmare start, Ireland’s Lowry takes Open lead

NORTHERN IRELAND (Agencies): Home favourite Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare start, including an opening-hole quadruple bogey, while Ireland’s Shane Lowry took the clubhouse lead as the British Open returned to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 on Thursday.

Organisers the R&A are anticipating the second-biggest ever Open attendance, with 237,750 people expected to come through the gates this week in Northern Ireland, but spectators were left stunned by McIlroy’s immediate collapse. He briefly battled back after a bogey at the par-three third hole, but missed a tiny putt to double-bogey the 16th, tripled-bogeyed the last and eventually carded a disastrous eight-over 79.

That left the 30-year-old 12 strokes adrift of clubhouse leader Lowry, who rolled in five birdies in a fine four-under-par round of 67. World number 33 Lowry admitted he also struggled to keep his nerves in check on the first tee, with the crowds lending strong support to all six players from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“I felt uncomfortable on the first tee, I was glad it was downwind so it was only a three iron,” he said. “It’s the British Open, it’s in Ireland. I feel like I’m hitting it well. Of course I feel uneasy.” The 32-year-old Lowry sits one shot clear of six players who signed for three-under 68s — Swede Alex Noren, former US Open champion Webb Simpson, South African Dylan Frittelli, Sergio Garcia, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Four-time major champion McIlroy, who fired a course-record 61 at Portrush at the age of just 16 in 2005, was given a huge reception on the first tee as the crowds huddled around the opening hole for a sight of the local hero.

However, cheers soon turned to stunned silence and then groans as McIlroy hooked his opening iron shot out of bounds, hitting a watching fan and reportedly breaking her mobile phone in the process. The world number three then pulled his second shot from the tee into the rough, he had to take a drop after finding an unplayable line next to the green and two-putted to post an eight on the par-four first.

There were cheers elsewhere on the Dunluce links early on as another Northern Irishman Darren Clarke, who hit the opening shot of the tournament, started brightly before hitting two bogeys in the final three holes for an even-par round of 71.

“The support, everything from the crowds, just everything about it… Sort of when I was about to hit my tee shot, ‘Wow, it’s The Open Championship, we’re back in Portrush’. It was amazing,” said the 2011 winner. Reigning champion Francesco Molinari saw his hopes of becoming the first man to defend the title since Padraig Harrington in 2008 take a blow, only managing a three-over 74. Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo got the crowds excited with the first hole-in-one at the championship since 2016 on the par-three 13th.

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