Ecosystem sits at 1. Try to keep an eye on the 150th staging of this great championship, there is no doubt that the Open is clouded by an elaborate narrative. In red corner: PGA and DP World Tours.
In the blue corner: LIV Golf and its Saudi Arabia-backed disruption plan. As golfers from both camps jostle for the claret world while trading public broadsides, it’s impossible to ignore the soap opera connotations.
In Rory McIlroy, there is a golden boy of the establishment. McIlroy may be uncomfortable with such a position – he excels in professional golf, not politics – and the R&A could never be seen as favoring an Open contender, but the Northern Irishman’s glory at St Andrews would have wider meaning. McIlroy represents all that is good about his game in the face of a model that throws millions of guaranteed dollars at players who don’t have to worry about 36-hole cuts.
McIlroy tapped in for birdie on the 18th-hole, five hours and 40 minutes after teeing off on a scorching Old Course, to a backdrop of spontaneous applause. McIlroy did not open heading into the second day but his 66 matched the first-round score he produced in 2014. He was to win the Open at Hoylake that year. The control McIlroy displayed on day one here was reminiscent of eight years ago. How the galleries wrapped it up.
“It never seems easy,” McIlroy said. “There are little parts of the tour where it shows you where you are mentally and physically with everything. I got through all those little tests today and I’m really proud of it. So it may have looked easy, but some parts of the round are challenging.”
Tiger Woods confirms it. The degree of physical discomfort was again evident for the 46-year-old as he slumped to 78 – six overs. It is possible – or probable – that Friday will witness Woods’ final competitive round at St Andrews. Next day his behavior will be charming.
LIV renegades lurk with purpose. Bryson DeChambeau’s 69 owed much to a patient approach that many thought beyond him. Talor Gooch, who infamously compared the atmosphere at the LIV tournament to the Ryder Cup, is four under. Dustin Johnson finished the match on 68 runs. Paul Casey reached the turn on minus four but had to settle for 71.
Just to prove we’re living in extraordinary times, Lee Westwood – who has surpassed many years, including his own 68 – took a gentle swipe at another staunch critic of the Rebel Tour, Woods. “He has a vested interest, doesn’t he?” Westwood said. “LIV players will speak on the LIV Tour, PGA players who are not on the LIV Tour will speak on the PGA Tour and put the LIV Tour down. I don’t pay much attention to people’s opinions. A tiger is entitled to his opinion. I respect Tiger as a golfer. He is one of the two best players to ever play the game.”
One questioner got particularly excited trying to find out whether Ian Poulter thought old Tom Morris, who died in 1908, would “turn in his grave” at the extent of golf’s Civil War.
“I have no idea,” said a bewildered Poulter, who had just signed for 69. Poulter’s interrogator realized that he was about to march to the local cemetery with a shovel in hand. Old Tom, face down, might have told a story.
It’s no disrespect to Cameron Young to say that the Open’s first-round leader can walk the streets of St. Andrews without the eyes of golf fans. Since he is not involved in a popularity contest, he has no reason to worry about it. In his Open debut, the New Yorker shot eight birdies for a 64.
“I shot a million last week [at the Scottish Open],” Young said. “Suddenly I’m very comfortable. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of preparation in between, but I think things can change in an instant, especially with the bounce here and how important your mindset is.
Scotty Scheffler, the world No. 1, remains hopeful of making the Masters and St Andrews Open double this year after today’s most testing 68. Cameron Smith scored 67, as did Robert Dinwiddie in the dying stages of the game. Barclay Brown, a 21-year-old amateur from Sheffield, is just one stroke further back. So, too, are Victor Hovland, Kurt Kitayama and Brad Kennedy.
Justin Rose withdrew before the shot due to a back injury. Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Colin Morikawa and Patrick Reed are all at the level.
He’s eight off the lead, while McIlroy’s name is eye-rolling on the leaderboard. If he joins himself in a weekend shootout with LIV converts, St Andrews popcorn will be in short supply.