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Rory McIlroy salvages even-par round at British Open in pursuit of Claret Jug

HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy clenched his fist as he saved par at the last hole in his opening round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

It’s still early in the 151st British Open but McIlroy wanted to make the putt and avoid shooting an over-par round. He battled back from 2-over through his first 12 holes to post an even-par 71 on Thursday. It wasn’t the round that McIlroy, who won last Sunday at the Genesis Scottish Open and is bidding to end a nine-year winless drought in the majors, was looking for but he didn’t dig himself too big of a hole either.

McIlroy got into red figures with a birdie at the second, but dropped a shot at the fourth and then lipped out a 2-foot par putt at No. 8. He squandered a chance to get it back at the ninth and after another bogey at 12, it was beginning to look as if this might be another missed opportunity at a major.

Open Championship 2023Leaderboard, scores, news, tee times, more

But McIlroy stayed patient and drained a 40-foot putt at 14 and followed with a birdie at the par-5 15th. The par save at 18 was impressive after he caught one of the steep-faced bunkers protecting the left side of the green and failed to escape on his first attempt trying to play sideways.

“When you hit it into these bunkers you’re riding your luck at that point,” McIlroy said.

On his second attempt, he had a stance with one leg in the bunker and one leg out.

“To get it back to even, I’m pretty pleased with that,” McIlroy said.

Could this be a pivotal moment? 

The challenge and drama of links golf. Encapsulated by @McIlroyRory. pic.twitter.com/KqZHhIm9ZP

— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2023

He didn’t look nearly as sharp as he did last week in picking up his 24th career PGA Tour title and jumping back to No. 2 in the world. McIlroy won his third of four majors here in 2014.

“Rory made some tactical errors today. Short-sided himself, steep-faced bunkers on the side where the hole was,” said Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. “If you get too aggressive, sometimes you’re playing too good for your own good…to see a player of his skill short side himself in so many instances, you have to think that perhaps he didn’t have the right strategy out there…on the whole, Rory played OK today but he was a little flat.”

McIlroy, who is grouped with Jon Rahm and Justin Rose, will be off in the morning wave on Friday.

“I’m still right in there,” he said. “Go out in the morning and shoot something in the 60s and I’ll hopefully be right in the mix.”

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