Cameron Young leads the field after a blistering debut first round at the 150th Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland on Thursday.
The American returned an unblemished scorecard as he set the clubhouse target at eight-under with a bogey-free 64, two shots ahead of 2014 champion Rory McIlroy.
With both golfers teeing off at the Old Course before 10 a.m. local time, the pair took full advantage of the mild morning winds to race to the front of the 156-player field.
A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour – the PGA Tour’s developmental series – Young is making his third major debut this year after first appearances at the Masters and PGA Championship. Though missing the cut at the former, the 25-year-old starred in Tulsa in May, finishing one shot short of winner and compatriot Justin Thomas.
Having played the Old Course on a visit with his family as a 13-year-old, St Andrews holds a “special” place in Young’s heart.
There’s just no hiding how special of a place it is,” he told reporters.
“It’s certainly been a goal to get to an Open Championship. And for my first one to be here is a little bit extra special for me.”
However, with tee times reversed and Young potentially facing trickier conditions on Friday afternoon, the American quickly moved from sentimentality to focus ahead of the second round.
“Things can change in an instant, especially out here given how important the bounces and the mindset that you have are,” he added.
“I might struggle tomorrow. Who knows? I might shoot 64 again. But I think it’s just important for me to take tomorrow as it comes and do what I can.”
‘Settled’ McIlroy in hot pursuit
McIlroy’s eventful round went beyond his impressive score, with the Northern Irishman striking both an ancient stone and a spectator en route to carding a six-under 66.
A bizarre start to the fifth hole saw the Northern Irishman’s tee shot bounce off a March Stone – one of several ancient stones around the fairways that mark the boundaries of the original course – before bouncing back with a birdie. Later, one of his stray drives fractured the hand of a PGA Tour employee, who returned to the course in a sling.
Barring a “too cute” second shot that led to his sole bogey of the round at the 13th, the four-time major winner was content with a good day’s work.
“Everything feels very settled,” McIlroy told reporters.”No real issues with my game. Everything feels like it’s in good shape … nice and quiet, which is a nice way to be.
“I’m pretty good at this game, I think I know what I’m doing. I just needed to take ownership of it again,” he added.
Cameron Smith trails the Northern Irishman by a shot, while English amateur Barclay Brown provides the pick of the names among the string of golfers tied for fourth at four-under.
Making it to St Andrews via a Final Qualifying tournament in June, the 21-year-old rapidly became a crowd favorite in the grandstands, as three birdies through the closing seven holes capped a hugely impressive opening round.
“I was unbelievably nervous at the start,” he admitted to reporters.
“Then once I got through the first couple of holes it was nice to calm down a little bit and hit some good shots and get into it.”
Meanwhile, fellow Englishman Matt Ford – who told CNN of his decades-long effort to qualify for the tournament – impressed in his first major appearance, carding a one-under 71.
Brown wasn’t even born when Tiger Woods won the first of his three Open Championships at St Andrews in 2000, and the youngster seems unlikely to see the American add a fourth in person after Woods endured a difficult opening round.
Carding a 6-over 78 that left tied for 146th on his return to the clubhouse, the 15-time major winner was roared on relentlessly by fans at St Andrews and received a rapturous reception at the final tee.
Crowds flocked to follow his round and roared each of his three birdies as if he was once again contending at the top of the leaderboard yet, as Woods recognized Wednesday, this is his new “difficult” reality.
Though asserting he felt “a lot stronger” physically, the 46-year-old had been candid about accepting the new limits of his body following the serious leg injuries he sustained in a car accident last year.
After teeing off at 2:59 p.m. local time, Woods and his two playing partners – compatriot Max Homa and newly crowned US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick – did not finish their round until just over six hours later. However, Woods told reporters after his round that his day had been “a lot easier” on his body than his two prior major events, which included a withdrawal at the PGA Championship.
“I didn’t really feel like I hit it that bad but I ended up in bad spots or just had some weird things happen,” he said.
“Links is like that, and this golf course is like that. I had my chances to turn it around and get it rolling the right way and I didn’t do it.”
On the St. Andrews support, Woods added: “They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. So supportive.”
By his own recent high standards, Fitzpatrick also endured a difficult evening, bogeying three times to finish even for the opening day. Like Woods though, the Brit was supported passionately throughout, and a birdie at the 18th to card a par-72 ensured a crowd-pleasing finish.
The first group of Friday’s second round are scheduled to tee off at 6:35 a.m. BST (1 a.m. ET), with leader Young set to start at 1:26 p.m. BST (8:26 a.m. ET).