McIlroy Battles Back For Level-Par Start At Royal Liverpool

Rory McIlroy's spectacular par save at the last meant that he would finish day one just five off the lead at The Open

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy escapes from a spot of bother at the 12th
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Going out at 3pm on an Open Thursday is never an easy start to the week but Rory McIlroy just about came out on top at Royal Liverpool.

If you were to put this into some type of context then he outscored his star playing partners by three shots, opening up with a level-par 71. Jon Rahm and Justin Rose were both round in 74 while Justin Thomas, in the group ahead, showed what can happen when your game really isn't firing, slumping to an 82. 

First, the good bits. The best bit, and one which resulted in a mini fist pump came at the 18th when all sorts seemed to be going on. Up ahead Thomas was running up a nine en route to that 82 and there would be a 15-minute wait before McIlroy’s threeball could finally hit their approaches.

Then he and Rahm found the sand and, such as the way the bunkers are, both balls ran into impossible spots. Rahm played out backwards, McIlroy attempted to play out sideways, left it in there, and then made an incredible up and down with his legs all over the place for a level-par start. 

"I wouldn't have been too happy walking off the 18th with a bogey, especially after the two shots I hit in there," he said in the aftermath. "When you hit it into these bunkers you're sort of riding your luck at that point and hoping it's not up against one of those revetted faces. 

"Jon and I didn't have much of a shot with our thirds, so then you're just hoping to make par somehow and get out of there."

Before that there were three birdies. Earlier, at the 2nd, he hit a terrible drive, a second successive block right, but then got lucky with a drop and knocked his approach in to six feet. 

At the 14th, with no hint of much good happening, he then drained a 42-footer across the green before again getting slightly lucky at the next. Here he pushed his tee shot right of his intended line but it had enough distance on it to grab a corner of the fairway and he then made a neat up and down from a greenside bunker to get back to level. 

Rory McIlroy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After last week’s heroics at the Scottish Open, on top of all the hullabaloo of the past 13 years and that lone Claret Jug, the balloon was pricked slightly as early as the opening tee shot. Nothing quite flowed but, at most points of the round, had you offered the 34-year-old anything in red figures then he, and much of the Hoylake faithful, would have taken it. 

"At 2-over through 12, to walk off in even par, knowing that I had a couple of tough holes coming up, but obviously the two par-5s, as well, I probably would have taken even par to finish the day. I needed to stay patient out there. It wasn't the easiest of days. But I'm still right in there. I was probably hoping for a little bit more at the start of the day, but as I got out there and the conditions got a tiny bit tougher and getting it back to even par, I was pretty happy with that."

Undoubtedly the low point happened at the 8th where he horse-shoed out from less than three feet. There were two other dropped shots but level par is plenty good enough with the lead at five-under and a 9.58am tee time on Friday to come.

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.