ABERDEEN, Scotland (AP) — Rory McIlroy rolled in six birdies in seven holes around the turn and shot a 7-under 64 for a one-stroke lead midway through a low-scoring first round of the Scottish Open on Thursday.
Refreshed after a two-week break, the No. 8-ranked McIlroy tamed windy conditions in northern Scotland to show his links game is in good shape heading into next week’s British Open at Hoylake.
“This time last year, I was trying to get the ball under control, not very confident with anything,” McIlroy said. “I feel I am as prepared as I have ever been to play this type of golf.”
One of the highlights of his course-record round at Royal Aberdeen was driving the green on the 436-yard 13th hole while the group ahead was on the putting surface. That set up one of his eight birdies.
“Everything was pretty much on,” McIlroy said. “In the conditions, this is as low as I have ever been.”
Unheralded Swede Kristoffer Broberg, out in the first group at 6:30 a.m. local time, and Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina shot 65s. They were one shot behind McIlroy on a leaderboard that included Luke Donald at 4-under 67.
Phil Mickelson missed a 3-foot par putt at the final hole for his only bogey in a 68, a solid start to the defense of his title. A chip to 10 feet from a cart path at No. 13 was Mickelson’s shot of the day, while the American avoided a penalty on the 10th when his ball moved on his backswing for his second shot. A sharp gust of wind was to blame.
Michael Hoey shot a 66 and was alone in fourth place midway through the opening round but it was his fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy who stole the show.
Since missing the cut at the Irish Open last month, McIlroy spent five days on the Spanish island of Ibiza with friends and more time back home with his family, practicing the type of shots that he needs for two weeks of links golf.
The two-time major winner looked back to his sharpest, driving well and long in the face of blustery winds and showing good feel on the greens. His run of six birdies came from Nos. 8-14, with the back nine playing downwind and giving opportunities aplenty.
“I was just pleased how I controlled my game out there,” McIlroy said.
Up at 4 a.m. local time, Broberg showed the kind of form that won him four events on the second-tier Challenge Tour in 2012, earned him his tour card and marked him out as a star of the future.
Five of his six birdies came from Nos. 6-12 and left him leading everyone but McIlroy in a high-class field. Broberg had just 24 putts in his round.