Cameron Young, No. 2 Rory McIlroy takes early lead at British Open

The 25-year-old has yet to win as a professional, but he has five top-three finishes on the season

The 25-year-old has yet to win as a professional, but he has five top-three finishes on the season

PGA Tour rookie Cameron Young shot a bogey-free, 8-under-par 64 on Thursday to take an early lead at the Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland improved to a 6-under 66 to finish second at the midway point of the first round. Australian Cameron Smith (5-under 67) is three strokes back.

A group of 4-under 68 included English enthusiast Barclay Brown, fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, Kurt Kitayama, Australia’s Brad Kennedy and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. England’s Paul Casey is 4 under through eight holes.

Seven of Young’s eight birdies came over the first 12 holes. Young, one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, drove onto the green at the short par-4 ninth, 12th and 18th holes, getting up and down for birdie each time.

In Young’s debut at The Open, he came one shot shy of tying the lowest first-round score in championship history. The 25-year-old has yet to win as a professional, but he has five top-three finishes on the season, including a tie for third at the PGA Championship in May.

“I think we picked smart tee shots and kind of kept a lot of bunkers out of play,” Young said on the telecast. “And then made some putts early, which set the tone for the day. It all added up to not trying too hard out there, even though I knew it would be impossible for me tomorrow.

McIlroy, a four-time major winner and world No. 2, made three straight birdies on the fifth through seventh holes. He is no. He bounced back from his lone bogey at 13 with a birdie at the par-5 14th. At the 18th, he left an 84-foot eagle putt inches to the right of the cup for his final birdie.

Smith, winner of The Players Championship in March, drained a right-to-left, 55-foot birdie putt on the par-4 second to jump-start his round. He finished with six birdies and one bogey.

“Really, I think it’s nice to get off to a hot start any week,” Smith said. “But these majors, I think the course is going to be tougher, especially here, how it’s going to get really tight and really fast, it’s almost like catching up on the weekend, I think.”

The big group at 3-under 67 included Xander Schaffel, Bryson DeChambeau and England’s Ian Poulter. World no. 1 Scotty Scheffler is 3 under through eight holes.

Ernie Els, 52, used four birdies between the eighth and 12th holes to reach 5 under. But after bogeying No. 16, his drive on No. 17, the road hole, went beyond the Old Course Hotel boundaries. The two-time Open champion from South Africa made a double bogey to finish 2-under 70.

Defending champion Collin Morikawa opened with an even-par 72, tied with a group that also included Phil Mickelson (three birdies, three bogeys).

Tiger Woods takes off on an afternoon wave in Scotland. Woods, who won the Open at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005, returned to competing in a major after skipping the US Open last month to rest a surgically repaired leg.

Woods hits his second shot from the divot on the opening hole. His ball hit the creek in front of the green, leading to a double bogey.

Spain’s Jon Rahm, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantle were also part of the afternoon wave as they started their rounds.

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