J.B. Holmes surprisingly leads the way at the top of a tantalisingly tight leaderboard at The Open Championship, but it was a day to forget for Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at Royal Portrush.
American Holmes, whose previous best finish at a major was third in the same tournament at Royal Troon three years ago, stands alone after a five-under-par 66 on Thursday.
That puts him one stroke clear of Shane Lowry, while Jon Rahm – in fine form after winning the Irish Open earlier this month – had reached five under before two late bogeys on the Dunluce Links left him in a mammoth clutch of 13 players in a tie for third.
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is also lurking just two shots back, as are Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton and Ryan Fox, who came home in 29 strokes to set a new record for the lowest back-nine score in Open history.
But the cause of McIlroy, carrying the weight of home expectation at Portrush, already appears a lost one as the local favourite toiled to an eight-over 79.
Woods’ chances of a fourth Claret Jug also seem damaged beyond repair, with the Masters champion badly out of touch en route to a score of 78.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 18, 2019
McIlroy arrived at the first hole to a thunderous ovation, but he trudged off the green with a quadruple-bogey eight after an out-of-bounds tee shot – which broke a spectator’s phone – and could not regain his composure.
Another bogey followed at the third and, despite a couple of birdies at the seventh and ninth, more misery was to follow on the closing holes. He three-putted on the 16th, fittingly named Calamity Corner, and finished with a triple-bogey seven.
It was left to Lowry to lay down the marker for the early starters on a morning where conditions were favourable for low scoring, the Irishman recording five birdies and just a solitary bogey to set the clubhouse target.
When heavy bursts of showers interspersed clear skies later in the day, Koepka – who has gone 2-1-2 in the majors in 2019 – got to four under by the 14th before a bogey at the penultimate hole slightly dented his progress.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 18, 2019
Woods, meanwhile, dropped six shots between the fifth and 10th to tumble down the leaderboard. Another bogey arrived at 14 before a gain at the next offered temporary relief, with a dropped shot at the last compounding his misery.
Rahm, meanwhile, came flying out of the blocks, a huge crunch down the par-five second leading to his first birdie of the day before draining a 12-foot putt at the fourth for another.
Some wonderful approach play yielded three straight birdies to leave him five under by the turn but scoring proved trickier on the back nine, which he played at two over, including a costly bogey at the last after finding himself out of position.
Instead Holmes – who flew under the radar for much of the round – was the one to emerge from the congested pack.
He bogeyed his opening hole but was two under by the turn thanks to a trio of birdies at the second, third and fifth.
The way home proved just as fruitful as he picked up strokes at the 12th and 14th and 18th, the late gain enough to take the outright lead.