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GOLF / BRITISH OPEN

Rory McIlroy attacks St. Andrews with a 63

Old Course is defenseless for much of the day, and young player from Northern Ireland just misses a shot at all-time major record. He has a two-shot lead over South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen.

July 15, 2010|By Jeff Shain

Reporting from St. Andrews, Scotland — Through eight holes, his day gave no indication of being anything special. Certainly not even close to the best Rory McIlroy has produced at St. Andrews.

An early birdie, the rest pars. With all the low rounds in progress on a wheezing, bleeding-red Old Course, the mop-topped Ulsterman was losing British Open ground.

It changed with one magnificent lash.

With no breeze to consider, McIlroy grabbed his driver at the 352-yard ninth hole and blasted a shot that cleared both bunkers in the middle of the fairway and skittered up onto the putting surface.

The resulting eagle sent the 21-year-old pro off and running. By the time McIlroy returned to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse, he'd fashioned a nine-under-par 63 to share in the lowest score ever recorded in a major championship.

"It just kicked in from there," said McIlroy, who ended the day holding a two-shot lead over South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen. "I think it does take something in your round -- a little spark, a little something to get you going. That was the point."

McIlroy went eight under over his final 10 holes -- also driving the green for a birdie at No. 12 -- matching another Open record with a 30 on the back nine.

It became the 24th score of 63 in a major, last accomplished by Tiger Woods at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. It was the first at a British Open since Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart did it in the final round in 1993 at Royal St. George's.

McIlroy could have had the record all to himself, but lipped out a short birdie opportunity at the Road Hole 17th after two solid strikes to put himself in position.

"It sort of went through my mind at 17 that a 62 would be the lowest round in a major," he said. "That's probably why I missed the putt."

Said playing partner Lucas Glover: "A bad break on 17 with the lipout, but that's a heck of a round."

McIlroy's round was merely the lowest on a day custom-built for red numbers. With rain holding off until late, light or no breeze through most of the afternoon and soft ground from Wednesday's showers, golfers could take dead aim at their targets.

No fewer than 73 golfers broke par on the Old Course -- most for a British Open round since at least 1970.

And that number could have been higher until some late-day squalls doused the latter groups.

"You could have kicked it around in a low score this morning," said Lee Westwood, tied for eighth after an afternoon 67. "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."

Oosthuizen also had a 63 in his sights, reaching eight under with three holes to play. But he parred No. 16 and bogeyed the Road Hole.

Former Open champion John Daly was tied for third after a 66, joined by local qualifier Steve Tiley and European Tour pros Andrew Coltart, Peter Hanson and Bradley Dredge. Woods, Westwood and six others were another shot back.

Phil Mickelson didn't have a birdie until the 18th hole in a 73.

Woods, seeking to become the first man to win three Opens at St. Andrews, went bogey-free until hooking his drive into thick rough at the Road Hole. Unable to reach the green in two, he missed a short putt for par.

"I'm in good shape," said Woods, who wielded a new putter for the first time in 11 years. "I took advantage of a golf course when I needed to take advantage of it."

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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