J.B. Holmes takes British Open lead with Brooks Koepka lurking

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Thumbs down for local hero Rory McIlroy either way.

McIlroy, who grew up on Royal Portrush, flopped in the first round of the British Open on Thursday with a quadruple-bogey eight on the first hole, and a triple-bogey seven on the 18th. It was a Limburger sandwich for the affable four-time major winner, who was widely expected to shine at a place where 14 years ago he shot a course-record 61 in competition at age 16.

That’s 18 shots better than his latest, an eight-over-par 79.

Mind the gap.

“I guess when you play your first and last holes in a combined seven over par, you’re sort of starting on the back foot,” said McIroy, who began as an 8-1 favorite to win it all.

He’s already 13 shots behind the leader, American J.B. Holmes, who offset his bogey on No. 1 with six birdies the rest of his round. He finished with a 66.

“You just have to accept the conditions over here and not get too greedy and go after some pins,” Holmes said. “Try to hit it to the fat of the green, the middle of the green and hopefully make some putts.


“It’s a lot different than we play in the States, you’re firing at flags and everything else. Here, you’re trying to get it in the right spot on the green and make a putt.”

Lurking in a large cluster of players who shot 68s is Brooks Koepka, who has won four majors in the past two years — two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships — and finished second at the Masters and U.S. Open this year.

Rory McIlroy grew up on Royal Portrush, but he definitely looked like a first-timer on the opening hole of the British Open on Thursday.

Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, is an accomplished golfer who belongs to Royal Portrush, so he might know the course better than anyone in the tournament. That’s a big advantage.

“It’s easy when he’s just standing on the tee, telling you to hit it in this spot, and I just listen to him,” Koepka said. “I don’t have to think much. I don’t have to do anything. I figure out where the miss is, and where I’m trying to put it, and then go from there.”

Compared to most courses in the Open rotation, Portrush has far more undulations. And that was the feel on this rain-soaked day, with up-and-down rounds all over the place. The weather went from cloudy to sun breaks to showers to biblical rains, Portrush living up to its reputation of a place that can serve up all four seasons in a single day.

While Irish pro Shane Lowry looked completely at home, shooting a four-under 67 to float near the top of the leaderboard, former Open winner David Duval was lost in space, taking an astronomical 14 on a hole — two strokes shy of tying an ignominious record — and playing the wrong ball in the process.

“You know what, there’s a lot bigger things than this,” said Duval, who shot a 91 — six shots worse than the next-highest career round he could recall. “And, honestly, I stood here starting this week knowing that I’m playing really well. And I figured if some good things happened, I could run top 20. Obviously, I’ll be in last place.”

Everybody knew this year’s tournament would be different, seeing as it’s being played in Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. But this different?

Tiger Woods at the British Open on Thursday.
Tiger Woods of the United States prepares to chip onto the 18th green during the first round of the British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland on Thursday.
(Associated Press)

“This golf course is tricky in parts,” Lowry said. “If you miss it [on] the wrong side of holes, you can get yourself in a whole lot of trouble. But if you play it right, you can make some birdies as well. And, thankfully, I did that today.”

Tiger Woods shot a cover-your-eyes 78, during one stretch going bogey, double bogey, bogey, par, bogey, bogey.

McIlroy’s nightmare opening hole unfolded thusly: His first drive hooked left out of bounds. His provisional sailed left, too, into the deep rough. So he was hitting three, and that shot wound up in the waist-high grass to the left of the green.

He had an unplayable lie, so he took a drop and therefore was hitting six. That chip landed about six feet from the pin, and he two-putted from there.

“It almost settled me down,” McIlroy said of his calamitous start. “It was almost like, well, that’s sort of the worst that can happen. Put your head down and keep going.

“I’m not saying that it was the ideal start. But at that point you’ve nothing else to really — what else can go wrong? So I just put my head down and tried to keep hitting good shots. And I did that for the next 13 or 14 holes. And then again, as I said, I just let it go a little bit at the end.”

There’s always Friday.