St Andrews: Rory McIlroy equalled the lowest score in a major by scorching round in a nine-under 63 in the British Open on Thursday while world number one Tiger Woods was lurking ominously four shots behind.
The 21-year-old McIlroy, who burst on the scene as an amateur with an opening 68 in the 2007 edition, produced a flurry of first-round birdies to take full toll of ideal scoring conditions as St Andrews was stripped of its defences.
With the greens still soggy after Wednesday`s downpour and not a breath of wind, the Northern Irishman sprinted three strokes clear of 1995 champion John Daly and Briton Andrew Coltart.
McIlroy looked on course for a record 62 when he struck a majestic approach shot to within six feet of the cup at the treacherous 17th `Road` hole but missed his putt.
"It sort of went through my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major," the world number nine told reporters. "That`s probably why I missed ... but it was a fantastic score."
"I didn`t get off to a flying start because I was one under through eight and then the eagle on nine turned things around for me," he added.
McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina in May thanks to a course record 62 in the last round, drove the green at the par-four ninth before calmly rolling in his 15-foot putt.
That was the trigger for an inspirational run of five birdies in six holes.
The young Ulsterman suffered his only hiccup at the 17th, which he still parred, before bouncing back with a birdie three at the last.
Elsewhere, the world number one drove off at the first to a lone cry from the galleries of `Woods time` and started out with a safe par four.
The 14-times major champion, making his first competitive appearance on foreign soil since the revelations of his extra-marital affairs last year, was getting good support from the Scottish fans but rarely acknowledged the applause.
Woods slammed his club into the ground in frustration despite finding the green at the sixth hole but his act of petulance seemed to spark him into life.
He birdied the seventh before flashing a wide grin and tapping fists with playing partner Justin Rose after downing a 15-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
The 34-year-old American, who ditched the putter he had used since 1999 for a new Nike model, looked like staging a late surge after claiming a hat-trick of birdies from the 12th.
Woods though he missed a three-footer for par at the 17th and then drove the green at the last but failed to take advantage after three-putting from the infamous Valley of Sin.
"The crowd was great, extremely respectful and it was a great environment to play golf in," Woods said.
"It was a good start for me. The new putter was good and I made a lot of putts today."
On the low scoring at St Andrews, he added: "I`ve never known anything like it in a major championship before".
Daly, dressed in striking lilac and lime green trousers, a pink tee-shirt and sleeveless lilac sweater, was equally as colourful with his golf on the manicured fairways and greens of the Old Course.
The winner of the 1995 Open here rose with the larks for his 0625 GMT tee-off and soon made his putter sing as he raced to the turn in 31, five under, before suffering a series of lipouts on the back nine.