In sport the greatest of dreams can instantly become the stuff of nightmares.

For Rory McIlroy, Thursday's Royal Portrush homecoming for the first round of The Open must have felt like that fabled dream where you're stood naked in front of a room of your peers, as his worst fears were laid bare in front of the world in a torrid round on the Dunluce links.

It simply wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't the narrative so many had expected or hoped for, even.

Addressing the media this week, McIlroy discussed how he did not feel like the centre of attention.

It was an admirable attempt at staying low key, but there was never any chance the focus of everyone's attentions at Portrush would not be on the four-time major winner.

Ever since he made a mockery of Portrush's reputation as one of the game's toughest links course as a 16-year-old with a startling course-record 61, McIlroy has been the man in these parts of the world.

But boy did Portrush have its revenge on Thursday and in the cruellest of fashions.

An almighty roar welcomed McIlroy onto the first tee as an expectant home crowd waited with bated breath to see what one of Northern Ireland's greatest sons would produce.

A spectator's broken phone as a result of McIlroy's opening wayward tee shot was a fitting metaphor for a round that fell to pieces from the off.

By the time he trudged off the opening green, having made an ugly quadruple eight, the smattering of almost apologetic applause told its own story. 

It was tough viewing as McIlroy scratched his way through the early holes. There was hope a recovery was on the way with birdies at the seventh and the ninth, and he went 12 holes without a bogey.

Yet, just like the showers that arrived at intermittent intervals, that hope proved brief as McIlroy three-putted inside five feet at the 16th – aptly named 'Calamity Corner' – before triple bogeying the last.

A clearly disappointed McIlroy put on a brave face and struck a determined tone, even allowing himself a little joke when asked if there was a way back to the cut mark from 79.

"Definitely a way back to Florida," he quipped. "I definitely think if I can put the ball in the fairway tomorrow I can shoot a good enough score to be around for the weekend. 

"Obviously I'm pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn't think about winning at this point. But I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s, be around for the weekend, and then try to play good from there."

Suggestions nerves due to the weight of expectation on his shoulders were a factor were quickly quashed by McIlroy.

"I don't think so. I was nervous on the first tee. But not nervous because of that. Nervous because it's an Open Championship," he added. 

"I usually get nervous on the first tee anyway, regardless of where it is. So maybe a little more so today than other places. But I don't think it was that. It was a bit of a tentative golf swing with a hard wind off to the right and the ball just got going left on me."

There is a sadly familiar pattern in golf's four biggest majors with McIlroy. He has 10 top-10 finishes since he won the last of his four majors at the 2014 US PGA Championship.

But there have not been many times he was genuinely in contention and this week – one of the most important McIlroy has had in his career – is surely now another lost cause.

Jon Rahm moved into the outright lead through nine holes of his opening round at The Open as Brooks Koepka shot into contention - but Tiger Woods endured a miserable day at Royal Portrush.

Spaniard Rahm, a man in form having won the Irish Open at the start of the month for the second time in his career, was in fine touch on the Dunluce Links.

Rahm made birdies at the second and fourth holes before picking up three straight gains before the turn to reach five under through nine, lifting him one clear of clubhouse leader Shane Lowry.

Koepka, who has gone 2-1-2 in the first three majors of 2019, was two under par by the turn and picked up further strokes at 12 and 14, which at the time left him in a share of the lead.

The four-time major winner dropped a shot at 17 to fall into a stacked pack at three under, a score Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Ryan Fox all achieved after 18 holes – the latter having recorded the lowest back nine in Open history with 29.

Woods was toiling much further down the leaderboard, though. The Masters champion went bogey, double bogey, bogey between the fifth and seventh holes.

He dropped further shots at the ninth and 10th and the American was six over with eight holes to play.

Earlier on Thursday, home favourite Rory McIlroy toiled to a 79 in front of an expectant crowd. He started with a quadruple-bogey eight and finished with a seven on the par-four 18th.

David Duval's dreadful day at Royal Portrush was made worse after a score adjustment turned his 13 at the seventh hole to a nine-over-par 14.

The 2001 Open champion began this year's tournament with back-to-back birdies, but that was not at all a sign of things to come as he dropped four shots at the fifth.

Duval then endured a nightmare of scarcely believable proportions at hole seven, with a statement from Open officials detailing the events which led to the double-figure number that eventually adorned his card.

"David lost his first two balls from the tee and then played the wrong ball for the third ball played from the tee," the statement read.

"On discovering the mistake at the green he had to return to where the wrong ball was played, but the correct ball could not be found.

"Therefore he had to play again for the fourth time under penalty of stroke and distance. He played six shots in completing the hole with the fourth ball from the tee.

"He incurred a two-shot penalty for playing the wrong ball but the strokes played with the wrong ball do not count in his score."

The high farce ultimately contributed, quite substantially, to a first-round score of 91 - that is 20 over par.

Speaking when he thought he had scored a mere 90, the 47-year-old - who batted away a podium microphone in the mixed zone - said: "The description was like that tee shot didn't count as a stroke because it was a wrong ball, so there was a two-stroke penalty. It was the wrong ball.

"Everything after that is null. Doesn't matter. The next shots don't count anyways.

"Then up on the front of the green we discovered it was the wrong number two Titleist. So I'm at fault. I didn't take a close enough.

"You know what, there's a lot bigger things than this. And honestly, I stood here starting this week knowing that I'm playing really well.

"I figured if some good things happened I could run top 20. And obviously I'll be in last place."

Rory McIlroy insists the disappointment of his nightmare start to The Open was not enhanced by it occurring at Royal Portrush.

It was an opening round to forget for McIlroy, who started with a quadruple-bogey eight and finished with a seven on the par-four 18th en route to an eight-over-par 79.

That was 12 behind early clubhouse leader Shane Lowry, while world number one Brooks Koepka was also at four under through 14 holes.

McIlroy's round did not follow the script for the local hero and he faces a monumental battle to even make the weekend for Portrush's first Open Championship since 1951.

"I'd be disappointed regardless, whether it was here or St Andrews or Birkdale or any of the other tournaments or majors," he said. "I'm disappointed, but at the end of the day I'm still the same person.

"I'm going to go back and see my family, see my friends, and hopefully they don't think any less of me after a performance like that. I'll dust myself off and come back out tomorrow and try to do better.

"I didn't give a very good account of myself out there and I can definitely play better, as all of you know. It's about doing the simple stuff - getting the ball in the fairway, missing it in the right spots if you do miss it. 

"The things I usually do pretty well I didn't do today and it made for a tough start."

McIlroy said his opening hole did not play on his mind and actually focused his game as he felt the situation could not get worse.

"It almost settled me down. It was almost like, well, that's sort of the worst that can happen. Put your head down and keep going," he added. "I'm not saying that it was the ideal start. But at that point what else can go wrong? 

"I just put my head down and tried to keep hitting good shots and I did that for the next 13 or 14 holes. I just let it go a little bit at the end."

Shane Lowry revealed a pep talk with his coach in a pub was behind his flying start to the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

The Irishman was the early clubhouse leader after signing for a four-under-par 67 on the Dunluce Links in round one on Thursday, his lowest score in a major tournament.

Lowry had not been happy with his form in practice prior to the final major of 2019, but a heart-to-heart with Neil Manchip put him in the right frame of mind.

"I don't feel like practice went unbelievably well this week. I felt a little bit uncomfortable," Lowry said.

"I went to get a coffee down at the Bushmills Inn and we found a little quiet room, we had a great chat for about 40 minutes.

"I left that room full of confidence and ready to go. So, we just put everything out in the open, everything out on the table, what could happen, what might happen.

"To be honest, I really was feeling a bit uneasy about this week yesterday, I'm not going to lie.

"It was just a great chat. Obviously it would be great to do well this week and great to contend, but it's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen.

"It's the British Open, it's in Ireland. I'm playing well, I feel like I should come up and do well. Why shouldn't I feel uneasy?

"I'm sure there's plenty of golfers standing on the first tee feeling uneasy. You wouldn't be human if you weren't nervous or uneasy about playing in the biggest tournament in the world."

Sergio Garcia made a fine start to his Open campaign and by mid-afternoon was among a cluster of players one shot back of Lowry's score.

The Spaniard has 10 top-10 finishes at The Open and spoke of his love affair for the tournament.

He said: "I'm European, so you always relate to The Open the most and I love the crowds.

"The crowds are so amazing here, so respectful and so excited to watch us play."

Rory McIlroy was the pre-tournament favourite at Royal Portrush, but his Open Championship hopes went up in smoke after one hole.

Having been the focus of intense scrutiny in the build-up to the tournament on home soil, the Northern Irishman appeared to let the pressure get to him during Thursday's opening round.

As far less storied players made significantly easier work of the course and conditions, McIlroy toiled to an eight-over 79.

It was a study in the damage nerves can do to even the best this sport has to offer.

Here we take a look at the breakdown of a major meltdown.

 

HOLE 1 - THE NIGHTMARE START

The misery started with an out-of-bounds opening tee shot, which saw the cheers that greeted McIlroy onto the tee turn to gasps. His ball reportedly broke a spectator's phone and he only fared slightly better with his next attempt off the tee, finding the rough. From there McIlroy landed in a bush, took another drop, chipped to within eight feet but two-putted for an eight.

HOLES 3 & 5 - THE STRUGGLES CONTINUE

At the par-three third, McIlroy landed in thick rough over the back of the green. The chip out left him a sizeable putt that failed to reach the hole, leading to another dropped shot. Things threatened to get drastically worse at the fifth when McIlroy's errant tee shot was lost for a while behind a scoreboard screen. Having located his ball, McIlroy deposited it onto the green and almost made birdie, but had to settle for a scrappy par.

HOLES 7 & 9 - THE RECOVERY BEGINS?

At long last, some respite for Rory. He made his first gain of a difficult day at the seventh, a new hole for this championship, and followed it up with another birdie at the ninth to make the turn in 39.

HOLE 12 - THE UP AND DOWN

After achieving something resembling consistency for a good few holes, McIlroy's blemish-free run was under serious threat at the par-five 12th. He was buried in the rough to the left side of the green and could not control his third shot, which scuttled across the putting surface and off the other side. A tidy up and down ensured no damage was done.

HOLE 16 - THE LATE SETBACK

Despite being three over with three to play, McIlroy still had hopes of climbing back into a respectable position and had not dropped a shot since the third hole. But there was another gut punch to come for the 30-year-old, who three-putted from inside five feet for a double bogey at 16, the hole known as Calamity Corner.

HOLE 18 - THE FINAL HUMILIATION

The 18th hole provided one last dose of humiliation for McIlroy as he closed out with a triple-bogey seven. A miscued drive, a poor approach, a tentative putt - not one part of his game was firing as he carded a 79 to resign himself to a fifth full season without a major win, because surely there would be no way back from this.

Rory McIlroy endured a first-hole nightmare and suffered a calamity at Calamity Corner before a poor finish to his eight-over opening 79 at The Open on home soil.

The four-time major winner started Thursday's play as the favourite to claim the Claret Jug, but the Northern Irishman faces the prospect of missing the cut at Royal Portrush.

McIlroy's first tee shot went out of bounds and he started with a quadruple-bogey eight.

More misery followed with a bogey at the third, while he had to scramble to save par after another wayward effort from the tee at the fifth.

A pair of birdies in three holes before the turn helped restore some semblance of order and he reeled off six consecutive pars on the back nine before the Northern Irishman's horror show at the 16th.

McIlroy four-putted for a double bogey at the hole known as Calamity Corner, one a casual tap inches from the hole that stayed above ground.

He then finished with a seven at the par-four 18th, which just about summed up his day.

Irish eyes were smiling on Shane Lowry, who sat at the top of the leaderboard when McIlroy walked off the 18th green in the rain, while reigning champion Francesco Molinari could only muster a three-over 74.

Alex Noren, Webb Simpson and Sergio Garcia were among a group of players a shot off the pace, while Jordan Spieth was well poised on three under through seven.

Brooks Koepka, the form player in majors, was going along nicely at two under halfway through his first round.

Other notable moments included an ace for Emiliano Grillo at the 13th, and a 13 for 2001 Open winner David Duval at the seventh after he played the wrong ball and went on to sign for a miserable 19-over 90.

Darren Clarke, who had the honour of the opening tee shot, signed for an even-par 71.

David Duval suffered a remarkable meltdown at Royal Portrush on Thursday as he took 13 shots on one hole during the first round of The Open Championship.

The 2001 Champion Golfer of the Year had started his day with back-to-back birdies, but things soon went awry in a comedy of errors that included the American hitting the wrong ball.

He shot an eight at the par-four fifth, having needed three tee shots, and somehow managed to fare even worse on the seventh hole.

Duval took two provisionals off the tee and then laboured under the assumption he was playing his third ball before it became apparent it was his second provisional.

After heading back to the tee, Duval found the rough again, duffed a chip and then shambled ever closer to the cup before registering a 13.

At one stage it looked to have been even worse, with a 15 showing on the official scoreboards before that eye-watering tally was revised downwards.

Duval was far from the only man to struggle on the Dunluce links, with pre-tournament favourite and home hope Rory McIlroy carding a quadruple-bogey eight on the first hole.

Golf is hard!

Darren Clarke conceded there were nerves and he was emotional as he struck the opening tee shot of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush, where Webb Simpson was leading after a fine birdie streak.

Local hero Clarke was given the honour of starting Thursday's play and made a flying start by going three under par through his first five holes on the Dunluce links.

It was momentum the 2011 Open winner could not maintain, though, and the 50-year-old eventually signed for a level-par 71.

Reflecting on his opening tee shot, Clarke said: "On the first tee this morning a little bit [I felt the nerves], and then on the last. 

"There's always nerves. If any professional golfer tells you they haven't got nerves when you start a tournament, you're in the wrong job.

"It was more emotional than I thought it was going to be, to be honest. I knew the golf course was going to be fabulous."

The heavy downpours on the final practice day on Wednesday had been replaced by calmer conditions on Thursday morning and Clarke expects plenty of low scores throughout the week. 

"I think you guys know better than me, after having spoken to all the players and stuff, they're really enjoying the golf course," Clarke added. 

"It is a proper, fair test of golf. The scores are going to show that, not just today but at the end of the week. It was one of those things that I was very proud to be standing on that first tee hitting the first shot."

American Simpson was one clear at the top of the leaderboard having reached five under walking off the 15th tee, a run of five gains between the seventh and 13th propelling him up the field.

Irishman Shane Lowry and Scotland's Robert MacIntyre were each one shot back, while Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren and Dylan Frittelli were at three under par.

Rory McIlroy was making some progress from his dreadful start, which saw him make a quadruple-bogey eight at the first and drop another stoke at the fifth, as a gain at the seventh meant he was at four over.

Emiliano Grillo proved 13 is not unlucky for everyone as the Argentinian produced the first Open Championship hole-in-one for three years.

The Argentinian took a 9-iron off the tee at the par-three 13th and the ball landed on the green before rolling in to the cup to huge cheers from the crowd on the first day at Royal Portrush.

After taking the acclaim from his playing partners Sung Kang and Thomas Thurloway and their caddies, Grillo, who returned to level par for his first round with the ace, collected his ball and launched it into the crowd.

Grillo's hole-in-one was the first at an Open Championship since Louis Oosthuizen managed the feat at Royal Troon in 2016.

Rory McIlroy made an abysmal start to his Open Championship campaign with a quadruple-bogey eight at the first at Royal Portrush on Thursday.

The home hope was met with a deafening reception by an expectant crowd, with the 148th edition of the tournament set to be the second best attended in history.

McIlroy was out of bounds off the opening tee and struggled to regain his composure from there, despite conditions appearing set fair for low scoring.

The Northern Irishman, a four-time major winner, is seeking his second Claret Jug but already faces a huge task to climb the leaderboard.

Compatriot Darren Clarke had the honour of teeing off the action and he got to three under by the fifth but walked off the 15th at two under.

Shane Lowry topped the leaderboard after nine holes, making the turn in a three-under 33, with Charley Hoffman and Alex Noren for company, while reigning champion Francesco Molinari parred the first.

There was also a moment to remember for Italy's Emiliano Grillo, who lit up the 13th with an ace.

World number one Brooks Koepka goes out at 1304 (local time), with Tiger Woods not teeing it up until 1510.

Darren Clarke hit the opening tee shot of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush on Thursday, with the world's best golfers set to battle it out for the Claret Jug.

The sport's oldest major is returning to the course for the first time in 68 years and the Northern Irishman was given the honour of getting the tournament underway in his home nation.

Clarke, the 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year, carded a birdie on the par-four first, while playing partners Charley Hoffman and amateur James Sugrue made pars.

Home hope Rory McIlroy goes out at 10:09 local time (9:09 GMT), with reigning champion Francesco Molinari in the group before him.

Tiger Woods will have a score to aim at by the time he tees it up at 15:10 local time (14:10 GMT), with Patrick Reed and Matt Wallace alongside him.

Having won four of the past 10 majors, Brooks Koepka – off at 13:04 local time (12:04 GMT) – will certainly be one to watch on a day when rain is forecast at various stages.

Not even the arrival of the rain could dampen the spirits of the fans on the final practice day for the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

The sunshine that bathed the Dunluce links on Monday and Tuesday was replaced by a cloud and drizzle on Wednesday.

But the weather did nothing to paint a bleak outcome for a tournament the R&A said will be the best attended Open outside of St Andrews, with an estimated 237,750 people expected to walk through the entrance gates from Thursday to Sunday.

And, just a day out from the beginning of play, our Omnisport team brings you the behind-the-scenes goings on in Northern Ireland. 

HOME HOPE MCILROY ECLIPSES TIGER

The interview room in the media centre this week has been visited by Claret Jug holder Francesco Molinari, multiple major winner Brooks Koepka, former world number one Dustin Johnson, and the legendary Phil Mickelson, among others.

But the battle for the best-attended media conference was always going to be between 15-time major champion Tiger Woods and home hope Rory McIlroy.

And, after some admittedly rushed counting of empty seats - of which there were very few - during each event, this Omnisport reporter can declare McIlroy as the winner!

There's no trophy to accompany this honour, Rory, but I'm sure you're proud of the achievement...

 

MCILROY AND MCDOWELL NEED A DE-CIDER

McIlroy famously shot a course record at Portrush back in 2005, at the age of just 16.

It was a clear indication the young Northern Irishman was destined for great things, but fellow major winner and compatriot Graeme McDowell reckons his best score on the links course might be more impressive, given that he was under the influence at the time.

He explained: "I remember when Rory shot the 61 – I thought, 'wow, that's a serious score' and that he was a serious, serious player. 

"I shot 63 a couple of times, although not in the North of Ireland Championship like he did – maybe it doesn't count as much when you're having a Magners on the 10th tee with the lads! Or maybe it counts more…"

 

WHERE'S THAT BALL GONE THEN?!

It is not only out and about on the course you can see the world's best players at a major championship, with the practice range a huge draw for the patrons.

One of the funky features of the range is the LED screens that surround the bays that track the progress of a player's golf ball.

That technology is made possible by Toptracer, who a couple of Omnisport staff on the ground spent some time with ahead of the start of play.

Any thoughts of a high-tech tent were quickly misguided, with a beautifully simplistic set-up on display. 

Unsurprisingly, Dustin Johnson was high up the leaderboard in terms of longest drive, but it was Chan Kim who was leading the way...

There is a stencil artwork of a young Rory McIlroy on a wall by the Portrush seafront. The photograph on which it is based shows the cherubic face of a boy no older than seven or eight, his eyes tracing the flight of a golf ball he has just struck.

Off in the distance, about a mile from that depiction, sits the town's famous links course, Royal Portrush, which plays host to the 2019 Open Championship.

On Thursday, a 30-year-old McIlroy will step onto the first tee as the favourite to win the Claret Jug. It would be the Northern Irishman's second, and a fifth major triumph in total.

Speaking on the eve of that landmark day, McIlroy addressed a crowd of media larger than that which had assembled for 15-time major winner Tiger Woods 24 hours earlier and declared: "I'm not the centre of attention."

It may have been modesty, or perhaps just a case of wishful thinking, as McIlroy appears determined to understate the role he has to play on home soil while everyone else talks up his part.

"One of my sort of mantras this week is: Look around and smell the roses," he said. 

"This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general, and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege.

"I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me, right? This is bigger than me."

He said it twice, first posed as a question, the second time a statement. It was an attempt to convince not only those listening but also himself.

McIlroy knows that even if the tournament itself does indeed eclipse his own significance, there is no single player this week who will attract a greater share of the spotlight. No, not even Tiger.

The Open has been a happy hunting ground for McIlroy, who won it in 2014 before an ankle injury suffered during an ill-advised football kickabout ruled him out of defending his title.

Since then, in three subsequent outings at the world's oldest major, he has not finished outside the top five.

Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only two active players with more major wins than McIlroy, but it has been five years since his last and there is a growing sense he may fall short of the admittedly lofty expectations that once rested on his shoulders, and in many ways still do. 

Over the next four days - because the notion of McIlroy missing the cut at this event cannot be seriously entertained - he will feel those expectations manifest in the form of widespread goodwill from the massed ranks of fans who will line the Portrush course in the hope of seeing a fairy tale play out.

The locals here are proud to see this venue hosting The Open once again, many of them having not been born when it last had the honour 68 years ago. For one of the country's most famous exports to win it would make them prouder still.

That would be a story a young McIlroy could scarcely have comprehended.

Rory McIlroy is "completing the package" and has never been in a better place mentally according to Graeme McDowell, who sees no reason why his countryman cannot win The Open this week.

Expectations will be high on McIlroy and McDowell from a home support witnessing the event being played at Royal Portrush after a 68-year absence.

Three years ago, speaking prior to the same tournament, McIlroy suggested he would not even watch golf at the Olympics let alone feature, but earlier on Wednesday confessed a fear of regret at not playing at the Games has fuelled a re-think and he intends to compete at Tokyo 2020.

The only complication for McIlroy is seemingly whether to represent Ireland or Great Britain in Japan.

McDowell acknowledged the difficulty McIlroy has with his decision, but says the four-time major winner has never been in a better place mentally as he attempts to lift a second Claret Jug.

"In the whole Olympic question, Northern Ireland sits in such a unique, precarious, kind of situation," he said. 

"There's no right or wrong answer, which is difficult for an athlete, especially one who has such a high profile like Rory.

"[But] as far as the kind of ambassador he is, he's fantastic. He's Ireland's greatest ever player and he's a great role model for kids. 

"To me as he continues to mature I feel like this year, especially, I've never seen him in such a good place mentally. 

"I feel like he's grown up a huge amount and certainly he's embracing the challenges ahead of him as he becomes older. He's certainly a lot more philosophical these days, I feel like. 

"He's done a lot of work on his game, on the mental side of his game and like I say I've never seen him so calculated and in such a good place mentally. 

"Physically we've never doubted him in any way, shape or form. I feel like he's completing the package as we speak. It wouldn't surprise me to see him go real close this week, if not win."

McDowell also reflected on how the decision to bring The Open back to Portrush for the first time since 1951 came to be.

The 39-year-old said initially it started as a joke with former R&A chief Peter Dawson, but when he, Darren Clarke and McIlroy all became major champions the prospect became much more real.

"As a kid I never really thought about [why Portrush did not host The Open]," he added. "I never really thought about the reasons why. 

"I mean, the obvious political struggles that we had, I was too young to really grasp the magnitude and the reasons and be able to comprehend what the solutions were back in those days.

"But when I eventually got out here on Tour and started spending time at Open Championship venues and got familiar enough with Peter Dawson to be able to kind of give him a little bit of a ribbing, it started off as a joke, 'Why can't we go back to Portrush?' Myself and Darren and Rory, especially. And the reasons were: Infrastructure, and this and that and the other.

"When the ball really started to get rolling was when Padraig [Harrington] won his three majors and then I won and Rory and Darren picked up a major each, as well. And the jokes turned kind of serious. 

"It was the Irish Open in 2012 when we broke the European Tour attendance record. I think the R&A couldn't ignore the fact that this could be a commercial success. The jokes became very serious."

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