Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington both open strongly at Troon

Padraig Harrington opened with a 70.

Rory McIlroy did not have too many complaints as he got his bid for the 145th Open Championship title under way with a solid opening round at Royal Troon on Thursday, writes Simon Lewis.

Playing in what are expected to be the most benign conditions of the week with clear skies, sunshine and little wind on the west coast of Scotland, world number four McIlroy shot a first-round, two-under-par 69 to keep pace with the early championship leaders. American Patrick Reed was the clubhouse leader in the afternoon with roughly half of the field done for the day, the Texan setting the benchmark for the later starters to chase after an opening 66, five under par.

Rory McIlroy shot a first-round, two-under-par 69 to keep pace with the early championship leader
Rory McIlroy shot a first-round, two-under-par 69 to keep pace with the early championship leader

Irish Open champion McIlroy got off to the ideal start with four birdies on the front nine to get to four under par but the much more challenging back nine reclaimed three of them, the Irishman double-bogeying the par-four 14th and then bogeying the par-five 15th before grabbing one back with a birdie three at the next hole.

“It was good. I think if I would've stepped on the first tee and someone would have given me a 69, I probably would have taken it,” McIlroy said. “But if somebody had given me that score on the 10th, I probably wouldn't have.

“But I knew today was a day where you had to make the most of the conditions because I don't think we're going to see the course like this for the rest of the week. I think the elements are going to be a bit of a challenge. But two-under par, shoot something in the 60s, it's a solid start.”

With five of Ireland's half-dozen competitors teeing off in the morning, four-time major champion McIlroy was the pick of the bunch but Padraig Harrington was only a shot behind him, the Open champion of 2007 and 2008 opening with a 70 having double-bogeyed the par-three 8th, the famous Postage Stamp hole, and then bucked the trend with birdies at 16 and 17.

European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke will also have been encouraged by a level-par 71 but there was less cheer for both Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne.

Dunne, who as an amateur co-led last year's Open at St Andrews after 54 holes, continued his run of poor form as a rookie pro on the European Tour by shooting a 77, six over par, while Lowry, returning to the major championship arena for the first time since his runner-up finish at the US Open last month, slumped to a seven-over 78.

Graeme McDowell was the lone late starter amongst the Irish sextet with the Portrush star reaching the turn in one over par after a front nine of one birdie and two bogeys.

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