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Rory McIlroy
Given his stellar play so far in his young career, Rory McIlroy's 63 didn't exactly come out of the weeds. (Getty Images)

McIlroy sizzles with back-nine 30 to tie major mark of 63

Rory McIlroy calls his 61 back home at Portrush his best round ever. But, he stresses, Thursday's record-tying 63 is the most special because it came at St. Andrews and during the British Open.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Believe it or not, he’s shot lower.

 Rory McIlroy fired a 61 at Royal Portrush when he was just 16. Oh, and there was that 62 at the Quail Hollow Championship earlier this year that sparked McIlroy to his first PGA TOUR victory.

But make no mistake. Thursday’s 63 at St. Andrews that enabled the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland to put his name in the record books was pretty darn special.

No one has shot lower in a major championship. And only 21 other men -- men like Greg Norman, Payne Stewart, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to name a few -- have equaled the score McIlroy shot during the first round of the British Open.

McIlroy’s round of 9 under at the Home of Golf staked him to a three-stroke lead at the time, and he missed a putt at the Road Hole that might have given him to record outright.

"I think it probably is the most special just because it’s at St. Andrews and it’s the Open Championship," McIlroy said. "I think the 61 was probably slightly better, if I’m honest. I don’t know if it was because I was 16 or because to shoot 61 around Portrush, especially the reputation that Portrush has back home, to go and shoot a score like that on it was pretty nice.

"But this is definitely up there. It’s nice to put my name on the few guys that have shot 63 in majors.  It would have been lovely to shoot 62, but I can’t really complain."

For eight holes on Thursday, though, McIlroy’s round wasn’t really all that impressive. He had birdied his third hole and reeled off five straight pars. Then he came to No. 9, a relatively innocuous 352-yard par 4 that looks out onto the North Sea.

McIlroy hit a driver there and watched as it scooted up the turf and settled 15 feet from the pin. He nailed the eagle putt and suddenly found himself 3 under. Birdies on his next three holes followed, and McIlroy was off to the races -- shooting a 30 on the back nine.

"I was actually trying to go left of the two bunkers in the middle of the fairway but pushed it a little bit, and hit it well enough that I was able to carry the bunkers and just run up onto the green," McIlroy reported.

McIlroy added a birdie at the par-5 14th and another at the next hole. He may have missed a relatively short one at the difficult 17th, but closed out his round with a final birdie on No. 18 in front of thousands of appreciative fans in the massive grandstands.

That eagle was the catalyst.

"I had missed a few chances early on, and I was going up the seventh hole at 1 under par and saying to myself, if we can turn in 33 here, 3 under par, it would be a good front nine and get going from there," McIlroy said. "I was able to do that.  As I said, it just kicked on from there.

"I think it does take something in your round, a little spark, a little something to get you going, and I think that was the point today where my round really got going."

McIlroy, who knew taking advantage of Thursday’s benign conditions would be key, first played the Old Course in the St. Andrews Links in 2007. He has learned to appreciate the subtlety of the course and feels that it suits his eye.

"I like the fact that you can hit driver off the tee, and with your second shots, even if the pin is in the middle of the green or over a slope or something, you’ve got to be so inventive or so imaginative," McIlroy said. "You have to cut them up in the air or run them up, and you can play so many different shots at this golf course and you need a lot of imagination.

"It’s just a very fun golf course to play.  If I had one course to play, this would probably be the course.”

McIlroy certainly had fun on Thursday.

 

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