Rory leads Open by 1; Tiger 3 back
Hoylake, England (SportsNetwork.com) - With the lack of wind on Thursday morning, players have gone low at the Open Championship and Rory McIlory went lowest of them all.
McIlroy fired a 6-under 66 on Thursday to take an early 1-stroke lead during the first round at Royal Liverpool. He won at Wentworth in late May, but has finished 15th or worse in his last four starts.
Italian Matteo Manassero is alone in second place at minus-5. Manassero has missed the cut in two of the last three Opens, and didn't play in 2013. He shared 13th as an amateur in 2009 for his best finish in this championship.
There are five players tied for third at 4-under -- the Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, along with Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka. Furyk matched his best finish in this championship at Hoylake in 2006, while Garcia played in the final group in the final round with Tiger Woods in '06 and tied for fifth that week.
Woods is one stroke further back at minus-3. The three-time champion started bogey-bogey, but ran off five birdies in a six-hole span on the back nine. He was joined at 3-under by Robert Karlsson, Marc Leishman, Rickie Fowler, Koumei Oda, Hideki Matsuyama and Jimmy Walker.
At the first, Woods found sand with his second and blasted over the green from a bad lie. He got up and down for bogey from there, then also missed a par putt from inside five feet on the second to drop to plus-2.
Woods started to fight back with a birdie on the par-5 fifth. After five pars in a row, he rolled in a birdie effort from off the green at 11th. Woods hit 6-iron to the next two greens.
On the 12th, he left himself six feet and at the 13th, he was about eight feet out. Woods converted both birdie efforts. However, his run of three straight birdies ended at the 14th, where he stumbled to a bogey.
Woods came right back with a 10-foot birdie effort on the 15th. He made it two in a row as he got up and down for birdie from a bunker on No. 16, and parred the final two to end there.
"It was good to get out there and mix it up with the guys," said Woods, who played his first round in a major this year after back surgery in March. "I had good warm-up session, and unfortunately I got off to a horrific start. But, I fought back."
Two groups behind Woods, McIlroy stuffed his approach at the second within a foot and kicked that in for an early birdie. He converted back-to-back birdies at five and six to move to minus-3.
The two-time major champion got up and down for a birdie on the par-5 10th, then rolled in a 12-footer for birdie on the 12th to gain the lead at minus-5.
McIlroy, who missed the cut last year, found sand with his second to the par-5 16th, but he again got up and down for birdie to become the first to reach 6- under. He parred the final two holes to close out a bogey-free round.
"It was stress-free to be honest. I got myself out of position a couple of times on the course, but that was really it. And obviously no bogeys, so when I did get myself out of position I was able to get it up and down nicely," said McIlroy, who broke par in the opening round for the 15th time in 16 worldwide starts this season.
"Just a really solid round of golf."
McIlroy's problem this year has been second rounds. He has been over par in five of his last seven second rounds, and has averaged 74.6 in those seven rounds.
"I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm putting a little too much pressure on myself. I just told myself this week to take it one shot at a time," McIlroy stated. "I'm at 6-under right now for the tournament and hopefully tomorrow I can get to 7-(under) and then get to 8-under, and keep trying to improve."
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion, headlines a group of seven players at 2- under 70. Dustin Johnson, 2009 winner Stewart Cink and former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel are in a large group at minus-1.
Henrik Stenson and 2011 champ Darren Clarke are in at even-par, while Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald and five-time winner Tom Watson posted 1-over 73s.
Past major winners Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell are at plus-2, while Angel Cabrera and Nick Faldo stumbled to 4-over 76s.
07/17 10:18:12 ET