Rory McIlroy, the kid many expect to be king one day, put himself into golf’s record books with a sensational start to The Open at St Andrews today.
On a course where he had never failed to break 70 in eight previous visits either as an amateur or professional, the 21-year-old equalled the lowest round in Major history with a nine-under-par 63.
It could so easily have been the first 62 and a three-stroke tea-time lead over South African stablemate Louis Oosthuizen.
The Road Hole 17th, always the likeliest place for him to trip up, instead saw McIlroy, four in front of Tiger Woods after day one, hit a towering six-iron to three feet.
“It sort of went through my mind that 62 would have been the lowest – that’s probably why I missed the putt,” said the Irishman
“It’s amazing – the only thing that came into my head was watching Tiger at the (2007) US PGA in Tulsa and he lipped out for 62.”
Even when he did the same there remained the possibility of an eagle two on the 357-yard last to separate himself from the 23 previous 63s in majors.
But McIlroy contented himself with a birdie – he pitched to three feet – and the best-ever opening round in the championship.
“It sort of made up for 17 a little bit. It would have been lovely to shoot 62, but I can’t really complain.”
Then the boy wonder from Holywood near Belfast – leading amateur in the event only three years ago and now the youngest player to have a 63 at a major - rattled through his record at the Home of Golf.
Starting with two rounds in the amateur Links Trophy and continuing with the Dunhill Links and ending with today it was staggering – “69, 69, 67, 68, 67, 68, 65, 69, 63.”
That comes to 43 under par and goodness knows what it will be at the end of the week.
Not that the scores really matter now. It is all about the Claret Jug and his bid for a first Major just a month after fellow Irishman and close friend Graeme McDowell broke his duck at the US Open.
There was no problem identifying the hole which ignited his challenge.
Only one under after eight on a morning when world number 455 John Daly, inspired on his return to the course where he won in 1995, reached seven under after 11 and Sean O’Hair turned in 30, McIlroy drove the green on the 352-yard ninth and sank a 15-foot eagle putt.
“It really got me going,” he said. He came home in a 30 of his own with birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th and the last.
Daly, in contrast, cooled on the way home and posted a 66, as did playing partner and former Ryder Cup Scot Andrew Coltart, himself only 408th on the rankings and back inside the ropes after two years of radio work.
The wind was picking up as they finished, but that did not stop Oosthuizen threatening to at least catch McIlroy.
The 27-year-old, who had his first European Tour victory in March, charged to eight under with three to play, but bogeyed the lengthened 17th and parred the other two.
Woods, now second favourite to McIlroy, also dropped his only shot at the 17th. No surprise there – he was 33 under par in winning by eight in 2000 and five in 2005, but three over there.
Tom Watson, one putt away from winning at 59 last year, could not reproduce that magic and handed in a 73, while Stewart Cink, the man who beat him in a play-off, scored 70.
The later starters included Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, second and third in the world.
Mickelson, who will topple Woods as number one if he wins, could do no better than 10 straight pars for starters, but Westwood, playing with a torn calf muscle, had five successive birdies from the fifth and remained five under with six to play.