TROON, Scotland — After others, especially those involved with Britain’s Olympic team, took their shots at him (verbal, of course), Rory McIlroy on Thursday took his shots at Royal Troon in the British Open, the golfing kind. With one exception, they were effective.
In his first Open Championship round in two years — the winner in 2014, he missed 2015 because of an ankle injury — McIlroy shot a 2-under-par 69. But for one 6-iron hit too well, he would have been further under.
McIlroy hit a superb drive on the 473-yard 13th. Then came his fateful approach. “It was the wrong club,” he said of his 6-iron shot. “I knew if I [hit it purely], the back [of the green] was going to come into play.”
The ball bounced over it, and after his pitch scooted long, he three-putted for a double bogey. “Then I let it linger a little bit,’’ he said, “and that’s why I made bogey at 14.”
The reaction to McIlroy’s Tuesday comments — after deciding not to compete at Rio in the first Olympic golf event since 1912, he said he wouldn’t even watch on TV — also has lingered.
Laura Massaro of England, whose sport is squash, which several times has been rejected as an Olympic sport — including 2009, when golf was voted in — told the BBC that McIlroy’s “lack of appreciation” for the Olympics is “unacceptable.”
“It’s frustrating,” Massaro added, according to the BBC. “There are athletes who really want it.”
What the 27-year-old McIlroy, one of golf’s Big Four, wants is major championships. He has four. McIlroy trails leader Phil Mickelson by six shots, but he is close enough after the first round of this 145th Open to be in contention for another major title.
“It’s nice to be not too far out of the lead after day one,” he said. “You’re looking at something around [a cumulative] 8- or 10 under par that might win this tournament, and I felt like I got off to a good start trying to achieve that.”
South African Louis Oosthuizen has done particularly well on the linksland of British golf. He won the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, was in a playoff last year — won by Zach Johnson — at St. Andrews and had a hole-in-one Thursday in the first round of the 2016 Open at Troon.
Oosthuizen, who also lost in a playoff at the 2012 Masters, aced the 178-yard 14th hole, using a 6- iron after his caddie suggested a 5. He also had an ace at the Masters in April.
“I hung in there,” said Oosthuizen, who finished at even-par 71. “I could easily have been 5, 6 over. Making that hole-in-one just turns your mindset around.”