McIlroy can’t buy a putt, still posts 66 to lead Scottish Open
Published 10:59 pm Friday, July 14, 2023
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Rory McIlroy felt he had no choice but to be pleased with a 4-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead in the Scottish Open on Friday. He also couldn’t help but wonder how much lower his score could have been.
McIlroy missed nine putts from 10 feet or closer — eight of those birdie chances — and then holed a 5-foot par on the 18th to take a one-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton, Tom Kim and Byeong Hun An at The Renaissance Club.
“I thought I hit the ball really well tee to green,” McIlroy said. “I gave myself tons of birdie putts out there. I didn’t make as many as I would like, but I can’t be anything but pleased. I’m excited to be in contention going into another weekend.”
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McIlroy has never won in Scotland — he’s never so much as finished in the top 10 in his seven previous tries as a pro — and looks to be hitting his stride with the final major next week at the British Open at Royal Liverpool.
He was at 10-under 130.
An, who had a career-low 61 in the opening round, could manage only a 70 in the afternoon when rain that had been little more than a nuisance brought out the umbrellas for good over the final two hours. He missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have tied McIlroy.
“Yesterday compared to this, it was a lot calmer, and today it’s a lot windier and then it rained and it’s hard to judge the distance,” An said. “I hit some good shots out there but just not close enough to get a birdie putt. I’m only one back, so we’ll see in the next two days.”
Hatton had a 62, while Kim had a 65. It was at the Scottish Open a year ago that Kim was runner-up while playing on a sponsor exemption, a result that led to him getting unlimited exemptions and turning one of those into his first PGA Tour victory.
“Just something about this place,” Kim said. “Had a great week last year and was really looking forward to coming back. And it’s nice to be able to play well these first two rounds and hopefully just try to keep giving myself chances over the weekend.”
Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, had a 65 and got within three shots of the lead, along with 51-year-old Padraig Harrington (66).
McIlroy missed the cut the last time he was at The Renaissance Club in 2021. He did not play last year ahead of the British Open, and this time was coming off a two-week break.
The British Open is at Royal Liverpool, where McIlroy won in 2014. He has gone nine years since last winning a major, and he lost another chance to end the drought at the U.S. Open last month when he finished one behind Wyndham Clark.
He sure didn’t look to have much rust, particularly with his irons and wedge. He fired a wedge at the flag on the opening hole to 6 feet for birdie, setting the tone for the day — at least with his approach shots.
“Honestly, I felt like 4 under was probably the worst I could have shot out there,” he said.
He faces a rough weekend with the weather. The forecast is for rain and wind on Saturday, which led the tours to move up the starting times from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. to avoid the heavy stuff in the afternoon. On Sunday, the forecast was for the strongest wind of the week.
Some players won’t have to deal with the weather because they missed the cut, a group that included Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Matt Fitzpatrick.
It also included Nicolas Colsaerts who had mixed feelings about his exciting day. Colsaerts finally made a hole in one on the European tour, a career dream. It came on the 14th hole, and while he followed that with a bogey, he responded with another eagle on the par-5 16th, and then a birdie on the 17 to get inside the cut line.
And then he missed a 30-inch putt on the 18th to miss the cut by one shot.
He still left with a smile.
“Listen, I mean, I’ve been chasing a hole in one in professional golf for 20-something years,” Colsaerts said. “Just hit a full wedge exactly on my right line. You can’t really see the ball go in, but the reaction from the grandstands, the arms in the air and the shouts, is something that I’ll remember for a long time.”