Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the 16th...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the 16th hole during the first round of the 139th Open Championship. (July 15, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

For a day, Mother Nature, that most fickle of ladies, was as gentle as the heather on the hills. After all, this is Scotland, where the witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” conspired in weather as nasty as their reputation, and the forecast for the first round of the 139th British Open was for wind and rain.

Instead, after a light morning drizzle Thursday, golfers shed their waterproofs, their sweaters and their inhibitions. Until early evening, the Old Course at St. Andrews was a charm, and the opening scores were virtually ridiculous.

“It will never get any easier,” said Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, who some have labeled the “New Tiger Woods,” shot a 9-under par 63, equaling the lowest Open round ever shot on the game’s most historic course, where the tournament is being played for a 28th time. And the “old” Tiger Woods even shot a 5-under 67.

In between were a 65 by Louis Oosthuizen, a South African who’s name appears here and there, and 66s by John Daly – yes, that John Daly, who won the Open here in 1995 – Andrew Coltart, Steven Tiley and Bradley Dredge.

Among those at 67 was Lucas Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Linksland courses are defenseless without a brisk wind. For most of the long day –- it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 p.m. or so –- there barely was a breeze. But there were a ton of birdies and in the case of the 21-year-old McIlroy, an eagle 2 when he drove the 352-yard ninth hole.

“You needed to take advantage of conditions,” said McIlroy, who as Graeme McDowell, winner of last month’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is from Northern Ireland.

“It never is going to get any easier.”

Or so far in any major golf championship anywhere at any time, any lower. McIlroy’s 33-30—63 (the eagle, seven birdies and no bogeys) was the 24th time the total was recorded in a major.
“Yeah,” said McIlroy “it was a fantastic score.”

He said McDowell’s U.S. Open victory gave him a belief he could win a major, and then alluding to Padraig Harrington, from the Republic of Ireland, and McDowell, McIlroy quipped, “I wouldn’t like to be the only Irishman at the Ryder Cup without a major.”

McDowell’s home town is Holywood, pronounced “Hollywood,” But it’s too early to be thinking of a cinematic story. “There are 54 holes to go,” reminded Tiger.

Woods was pleased with his 67, if not satisfied, losing a shot at the famed 17th, the Road Hole and then failing to birdie the 357-yard 18th despite nearly reaching the green on his drive.

ldquo;It felt awkward, because there was absolutely no wind whatsoever,” said Woods, “and you never play a links golf course with no wind. You knew with the conditions we had, you had to go get it.”

Woods won the last two Opens at St. Andrews, in 2000 and 2005, and despite his struggles, the now-familiar marital infidelity, the departure of his swing coach, Woods looked like a golfer who could justify favoritism by the British bookies. He was the 12-1 choice, with McIlroy No. 2 at 12-1.

“It’s getting better every week,” said Woods of his game. “I’m hitting shots I haven’t hit in a long time. It’s building.”

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