Lowry sets early target as McIlroy opens with 79 at Portrush

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (AP) — Shane Lowry of Ireland didn’t have the level of expectations or the connection to Royal Portrush like Rory McIlroy.

All he had was the lead Thursday at the British Open.

Lowry found a renewed confidence on the eve of the final major of the year and delivered a 4-under 67 in ever-changing weather to set the early target at the first British Open in Northern Ireland in 51 years.

“I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys,” Lowry said.

That wasn’t the case for McIlroy, which made his start, his finish and his score — 79 — all the more shocking.

McIlroy, the betting favorite who once shot 61 at Royal Portrush as a 16-year-old amateur, pulled his opening tee shot out of bounds and had to take another penalty shot to get his ball out of a bush in making a quadruple-bogey 8. He ended his forgettable day by making a double bogey when he carelessly missed a tap-in, and finishing with a triple bogey. The 79 matched his worst start in the British Open.

The objective now is to find a way to stick around all four days.

“I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn’t think about winning at this point,” McIlroy said.

Lowry, who won the Irish Open as an amateur 10 years ago, had a one-shot lead over a group that ranged from major champions Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson to Bob MacIntyre, the 22-year-old Scot making his major championship debut.

McIlroy certainly wasn’t alone in his frustration.

Graeme McDowell, born and raised in Portrush, was one shot out of the lead until he took a three-putt bogey and lost his tee shot on the 18th for a triple bogey, sending him to a 73.

No one suffered quite like former British Open champion David Duval, who plays only sparingly because of duties with American television. Duval was going along nicely with two quick birdies until a quadruple-bogey 8 on the fifth hole. And then it all came undone on the par-5 seventh when he lost his tee shot in the high grass, hit a provisional tee shot and then mistakenly played the wrong ball and had to start the hole over with six penalty shots.

It added to 13, and with more trouble the rest of the way, he finished with a 90. Only two other players had a higher score than 13 in the British Open. The record belongs to Herman Tissie, who made a 15 on the short “Postage Stamp” par 3 at Royal Troon in 1950.

Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson were among the late starters.

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