Brooks Koepka's Open challenge faded at Royal Portrush but the American still became just the fifth man to secure a top-five finish at every major in a single season.

After finishing tied for second at the Masters, winning the US PGA Championship and claiming second outright at the U.S. Open, Koepka had to settle for a share of fourth on six under par in Northern Ireland, nine shots adrift of runaway winner Shane Lowry.

A closing 74 spoiled his weekend, after rounds of 68, 69 and 67 put the 29-year-old in the hunt for the Claret Jug.

Before Koepka's feat, Jordan Spieth was the last man to achieve the full house of top-five finishes when he won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 as well as enjoying strong runs at the Open and US PGA.

Rickie Fowler, still yet to win a major, was a model of consistency in 2014, with two second places, a third and a fifth.

Tiger Woods had three major wins in his 2000 season, plus a fifth place at the Masters, and in 2005 he triumphed at the Masters and Open Championship, while coming second at the U.S. Open and tying for fourth at the US PGA.

Jack Nicklaus won the US PGA in 1971 and 1973, and in both seasons also bagged top-five finishes at the other majors.

Despite joining such an elite club, Koepka was not impressed with his efforts at Portrush.

"I don't see much positive out of it," he said after his final round. "If you don't play good you're not going to win. So it's very simple. It's disappointing, yes. I didn't play the way I wanted to. And I've got to live with that."

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shared a piece of unwanted history at The Open Championship on Friday.

The key to the success of two of golf's greatest stars has been their longevity, with Woods winning 15 major titles and Mickelson five during their distinguished careers.

But, there have of course been the inevitable disappointments and this weekend at Royal Portrush has been one such occasion as Woods and Mickelson failed to make the cut.

That in itself is not particularly remarkable, even the greatest have their share of underwhelming major tournaments.

What is astounding is that it marks the first time Woods and Mickelson have missed the cut at the same major tournament, and just the fourth time the pair have done so on the PGA Tour.

They last both missed the cut at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Woods shot a one-under-par 70 on Friday, but it was nowhere near enough to negate the damage from an opening-round 78.

Mickelson, meanwhile, shot a pair of 74s and will not be sticking around for Saturday and Sunday.

Tiger Woods still loves "the stress" of playing major golf but expressed frustration at not being able to compete at the top of the leaderboards after his Masters triumph.

The American great started The Open Championship with a seven-over-par 78 on Thursday and could only go one under on a favourable day of scoring at Royal Portrush in round two.

With the projected cutline hovering around one over, Woods will not be around for the weekend in Northern Ireland.

Since his dramatic Masters win in April, Woods will have missed the cut in two majors and tied 21st at the U.S. Open – a return that does not sit well with the 15-time major winner. 

"It's more frustrating than anything else because this is a major championship and I love playing in these events," said Woods, who has missed multiple cuts at majors in the same season for just the second time in his career. 

"I love the atmosphere. I love just the stress of playing in a major and unfortunately, I've only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it. 

"But the other three I didn't do very well."

Woods is now planning on taking some time off ahead of the FedExCup Playoffs on the PGA Tour, which begin in August.

"I'm going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the playoffs. We've got the playoffs coming up and anything can happen," he added.

"Last year I almost stole the whole FedEx Cup at the very end. If it wasn't for Rosie's [Justin Rose] little break there at the bunker, it could have been interesting.

"So get ready for those events and after that have a break."

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.

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.

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.

Tiger Woods was downbeat after a scrappy opening round at Royal Portrush that effectively ended his hopes of winning The Open.

The 15-time major winner conceded his body let him down as he carded a seven-over 78 on Thursday to sit 12 strokes off the summit.

He cited a lack of mobility after a day in which many of his shots went left of their intended target, making it a miserable outing in Northern Ireland for the Masters champion.

"I didn't do much out there," he admitted. "I hit a lot of missed shots, they were all left. Wasn't hitting it solid. Everything was off the heel. Just trying to scrape it around.

"I'm just not moving as well as I'd like and, unfortunately, you've got to be able to move, and especially under these conditions, shape the golf ball. And I didn't do it.

"It's just the way it is. Just Father Time and some procedures I've had over the time. That's just the way it's going to be."

The 43-year-old revealed in the build-up to the event that he was being much more selective with his schedule in order to extend his playing days.

But he said things did not feel right even before he got going at the Dunluce Links.

"One of the reasons why I'm playing less tournaments this year is that I can hopefully prolong my career, and be out here for a little bit longer," he said.

"My warm-up wasn't very good. I had a hard time moving. And [I was] just trying to piece together a swing that will get me around a golf course."

Woods said he would be going immediately for treatment but insisted he would return to play on Friday.

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.

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...

It was another glorious day at Royal Portush as preparations for the Open Championship continued on Tuesday.

Players aplenty faced the media - including a certain Tiger Woods - and there were a host of big names out on the course.

And they weren't the only ones strolling the stunning links track, with Omnisport's reporters also on the prowl.

Here's a sample of what they happened upon during their travels inside the media tent and beyond...

 

NO PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?

Brooks Koepka's record is a peculiar thing.

The world number one has won four of the past 10 majors and placed second at the Masters and U.S. Open either side of defending the US PGA Championship in the first three major tournaments of 2019.

But he is only a twice a winner on the regular PGA Tour. So what's the difference?

"I just practice before the majors. Regular tournaments I don't practice. If you've seen me on TV, that's when I play golf," he said to laughter from the press pack.

Top marks for honesty there, Brooks.

PINT OF GUINNESS, TIGER?

Tiger Woods was in a jovial mood during his media conference, which as ever was the best attended of them all.

When asked if he'd had chance to have a sip of Guinness, the three-time Open winner offered this assessment of one of the more popular Irish delicacies.

"This week? No, not this week. In the past...hmm," he joked.

 

LOST IN THE ROUGH

One of the joys of covering an Open Championship is heading out on the course to take in the sights and catch a bit of golf.

On practice days, with reduced crowds, it's an opportunity to follow some of the big names without having to contend with the masses that follow the action during the tournament.

But the plans of one Omnisport reporter, who set out to watch Brooks Koepka, were thwarted by some poor navigation and, in fairness, a little bit of bad luck.

If you take a wrong turn on this course and get stuck the wrong side of one of the boundary ropes that funnel spectators down certain pathways, you can end up a long way from where you want to be.

And so it proved for this lost reporter, who never did track down Koepka and was left instead to watch Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who has won four fewer majors than the American.

Tiger Woods lauded the remarkable consistency of Brooks Koepka at major championships despite being the victim of an apparent snub from his compatriot.

Koepka heads into this week's Open having won four of the last 10 majors and occupying the world number one ranking.

The 29-year-old has frequently insisted he does not get the recognition his achievements deserve, and reiterated that point again on Tuesday.

But when Woods spoke to the media shortly after Koepka had done so at Royal Portrush, there was no shortage of praise from the 15-time major champion towards a man whose record at the most recent four has been first, tied second, first, second.

"What he's done in the last four major championships has been just unbelievable," said Woods, who won the 2019 Masters at the expense of Koepka, among others, to end an 11-year drought in golf's big four events.

"To be so consistent, so solid. He's been in contention to win each and every major championship."

Woods did, however, recount what might be considered a revealing story about Koepka, who appears reluctant to give his legendary rival any competitive edge in Northern Ireland, having narrowly missed out on the green jacket himself.

"Tell you a funny story," Woods began. "I texted Brooksie congratulations on another great finish [at Augusta].

"And I said, 'Hey, dude, do you mind if I tag along and play a practice round?'.

"I've heard nothing."

Woods will be seeking a fourth Claret Jug at Portrush, with or without Koepka's assistance.

Tiger Woods acknowledged the physical and emotional toll of winning the Masters "took a lot out of me" as he admitted he still struggles to comprehend his Augusta victory.

Golf's biggest star ended an 11-year wait for his 15th major title by winning a fifth green jacket in April.

It was a mightily impressive achievement by the 43-year-old, whose well-documented injury struggles left many doubting whether he would win another major.

Since triumphing at the Masters, Woods missed the cut at the US PGA Championship and placed 21st at the U.S. Open either side of a top-10 finish at the Memorial Tournament, and he says the demanding nature of Augusta left its mark.

"Getting myself into position to win the Masters, it took a lot out of me. That golf course puts so much stress on the system," he said on Tuesday ahead of The Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

"Then if you look at that leaderboard after Francesco [Molinari] made the mistake at 12, it seemed like seven, eight guys had a chance to win the golf tournament with only six holes to play. So, it became very crowded.

"A lot of different scenarios happened. I was reading the leaderboard all the time trying to figure out what the number is going to be, who is on what hole. And it took quite a bit out of me.

"Seeing my kids there, they got a chance to experience The Open Championship last year after their dad took the lead, and then made a few mistakes. And this time they got to see me win a major championship. So, it was special for us as a family.

"My mom was still around. She was there, in '97, my dad was there, and now my kids were there. It was a very emotional week and one that I keep reliving. 

"It's hard to believe that I pulled it off and I end up winning the tournament."

Prior to finishing tied sixth in The Open at Carnoustie last year, Woods suggested the tournament presented arguably his best chance of winning more major titles in his 40s.

It is a belief he still holds, despite his famous Masters victory.

"It does [offer me the best chance to win more majors]," he added. "It allows the players that don't hit the ball very far or carry the ball as far to run the golf ball out there. 

"And plus, there is an art to playing links golf. The more I've played over here and played under different conditions, being able to shape the golf ball both ways and really control trajectory, it allows you to control the ball on the ground. 

"And as we know, it's always moundy and it's hard to control the ball on the ground.

"But being able to control it as best you possibly can in the air to control it on the ground allows the older players to have a chance to do well in The Open Championship."

How do you top what happened on Sunday?

That question will be asked by the R&A in the next few days ahead of the 148th Open Championship after a weekend of phenomenal sporting drama.

At Lord's, hosts and pre-tournament favourites England won the men's Cricket World Cup for the first time in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Ben Stokes' heroics with the bat took England into an unlikely Super Over with New Zealand, after a scarcely believable final six balls yielded the 15 runs England required to tie the game.

The drama was not over there, not even close.

England posted New Zealand a target of 16 in their additional over. The Black Caps could only match their opponents despite Jofra Archer coughing up a wide on his first delivery and then being hit for six, meaning Eoin Morgan's men won by the way of boundary count in a finale befitting any Hollywood blockbuster.

Just down the road at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer served up a five-set classic in the men's singles final.

The two modern-day greats went toe to toe as Wimbledon's new rule enforced from 2019 saw a final-set tie-break come into play at 12-12. It was Djokovic who defended his title to deny Federer a ninth Wimbledon crown and 21st slam overall after almost five hours of gruelling, gripping tennis.

A Super Over, a super tie-break, a super day of unimaginable sport. 

Which is why there will be so much expectation on golf's biggest stars to deliver when The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years.

If the action on the course can be as mesmerising as the picturesque backdrops surrounding the Dunluce Links then it will be job done. There is a growing sense that the game's biggest stars need to deliver a show, though.

How tournament organisers would love a repeat of Tiger Woods' dramatic Masters triumph in April, which ended his 11-year wait for major glory.

A fourth Open triumph was on the cards a year ago at Carnoustie when Woods surged into contention, only to fall away in what was a familiar story in 2018 as Francesco Molinari claimed a richly deserved win.

The crowds following Woods that day were 10-people deep, desperately scrambling for the best vantage point of the global icon. That is the draw he has - how timely it would be for golf if he could generate that same buzz at Portrush.

One man who will draw the crowds regardless of performance is Rory McIlroy, who will carry the weight of an expectant home crowd on his shoulders.

It was back in 2005 as a precocious, curly haired 16-year-old that McIlroy took Portrush to bits in the North of Ireland Championship to fire a course-record 61.

Changes to the course since mean such heroics are unlikely to be repeated, but McIlroy will be aware that now is the prime time to end a barren run of five years without a major title.

Brooks Koepka is another with the skills to bring the thrills having turned himself into a major-winning machine. Were it not for Gary Woodland's fantastic performance at Pebble Beach, he would have had a third consecutive U.S. Open to his name last month.

The rest of a star-studded field can play their part too, with recent history suggesting we can get a tournament to rival the dramas that unfolded elsewhere on Sunday. It is three years since Henrik Stenson outbattled Phil Mickelson in one the most memorable final days in Open history at Troon, while a year later it was Jordan Spieth's recovery from an infamous meltdown to deny Matt Kuchar that stole the headlines at Birkdale.

A daunting gauntlet has admittedly been laid down by the events at Lord's and Wimbledon, but golf will hope the star turns can take centre stage at Portrush.

It's been 68 years since Royal Portrush last hosted The Open Championship and excitement is building ahead of the start of the 148th edition of the tournament.

Sunday was the first official practice day and several players took to the course a day later to get familiar with a venue most in the field will never have played.

And there was plenty going on around the course as the build-up kicks into gear.

Below, Omnisport's team on the ground round up some of the best goings on in Northern Ireland.

 

TIGER'S TEE TROUBLES

Nothing can make your own golf abilities feel quite so inadequate as watching the pros tee it up at The Open.

But, rest assured, even the greatest of greats can encounter a few woes out on the course, even 15-time major winners like Tiger Woods!

While preparing to hit off at the 11th, Woods needed a few attempts to get his ball to stay on the tee, much to the amusement of the watching patrons and the party involved with his playing group that included Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

"God damn it!" Tiger exclaimed. "My short little tees just don't work."


WATER GOOD IDEA BY THE OPEN

We all want to do our bit to help protect the environment, right?

Well the good folks here at The Open do as well and this year the tournament has removed all single-use plastic bottles.

In their place, players (and indeed members of the media) have been provided with special edition refillable bottles, with water stations placed all around the course.

Good on you, folks.

GOODBYE, AT LEAST FOR NOW, MY FRIEND

None of us here at Omnisport have ever triumphed in a major golf tournament, nor do we expect any of us ever will…

But it's easy to imagine that the toughest part of winning a Claret Jug is handing it back a year later.

That's exactly what defending champion Francesco Molinari had to do on Monday and the Italian had to ensure the famous trophy was kept in some safe places…

"I was very, very careful with it, especially the first few weeks," he said.

"We've had a couple of drinks out of it. Nothing out of the ordinary. I've got small kids at home so I had to keep it out of reach most of the time to avoid disaster!"

 

CLARET CHUG?

Jordan Spieth is a man who knows how to win a Claret Jug, having triumphed in a day of high drama at Royal Birkdale a couple of years back.

And to start his latest tilt for a second Open Championship, Spieth partook in an American pastime of chugging down a can…

Although we're not entirely sure what was in inside.

How do you top what happened on Sunday?

That question will be asked by the R&A in the next few days ahead of the 148th Open Championship after a weekend of phenomenal sporting drama.

At Lord's, hosts and pre-tournament favourites England won the men's Cricket World Cup for the first time in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Ben Stokes' heroics with the bat took England into an unlikely Super Over with New Zealand, after a scarcely believable final six balls yielded the 15 runs England required to tie the game.

The drama was not over there, not even close.

England posted New Zealand a target of 16 in their additional over. The Black Caps could only match their opponents despite Jofra Archer coughing up a wide on his first delivery and then being hit for six from the next, meaning Eoin Morgan's men won by the way of boundary count in a finale befitting any Hollywood blockbuster.

Just down the road at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer served up a five-set classic in the men's singles final.

The two modern-day greats went toe to toe as Wimbledon's new rule enforced from 2019 saw a final-set tie-break come into play at 12-12. It was Djokovic who defended his title to deny Federer a ninth Wimbledon crown and 21st slam overall after almost five hours of gruelling, gripping tennis.

A Super Over, a super tie-break, a super day of unimaginable sport. 

Which is why there will be so much expectation on golf's biggest stars to deliver when The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years.

If the action on the course can be as mesmerising as the picturesque backdrops surrounding the Dunluce Links then it will be job done. There is a growing sense that the game's biggest stars need to deliver a show, though.

How tournament organisers would love a repeat of Tiger Woods' dramatic Masters triumph in April, which ended his 11-year wait for major glory.

A fourth Open triumph was on the cards a year ago at Carnoustie when Woods surged into contention, only to fall away in what was a familiar story in 2018 as Francesco Molinari claimed a richly deserved win.

The crowds following Woods that day were 10-people deep, desperately scrambling for the best vantage point of the global icon. That is the draw he has - how timely it would be for golf if he could generate that same buzz at Portrush.

One man who will draw the crowds regardless of performance is Rory McIlroy, who will carry the weight of an expectant home crowd on his shoulders.

It was back in 2005 as a precocious, curly haired 16-year-old that McIlroy took Portrush to bits in the North of Ireland Championship to fire a course-record 61.

Changes to the course since mean such heroics are unlikely to be repeated, but McIlroy will be aware that now is the prime time to end a barren run of five years without a major title.

Brooks Koepka is another with the skills to bring the thrills having turned himself into a major-winning machine. Were it not for Gary Woodland's fantastic performance at Pebble Beach, he would have had a third consecutive U.S. Open to his name last month.

The rest of a star-studded field can play their part too, with recent history suggesting we can get a tournament to rival the dramas that unfolded elsewhere on Sunday. It is three years since Henrik Stenson outbattled Phil Mickelson in one the most memorable final days in Open history at Troon, while a year later it was Jordan Spieth's recovery from an infamous meltdown to deny Matt Kuchar that stole the headlines at Birkdale.

A daunting gauntlet has admittedly been laid down by the events at Lord's and Wimbledon, but golf will hope the star turns can take centre stage at Portrush.

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