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2014 Open Championship Update: Rory McIlroy Shines to Hold Lead In Sun-Soaked First Round

Rory McIlroy British Open Royal Liverpool

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The first round of the 2014 Open Championship is in the books, and if you caught any of the action on television, you could be forgiven for thinking that the tournament might have moved to someplace on the California coast. Temperatures were warm, winds calm, and the sun was shining for much of the day at Royal Liverpool. Gone were the clouds and gusts, replaced by lots of red numbers on the leaderboard.

There were a whopping 48 players who came in under par on a beautiful Thursday at Hoylake. Chief among them, of course, was Rory McIlroy, who was as close to perfect as one can possibly be. His six-birdie, no-bogey effort earned him the top spot a quarter of the way through the championship, a stroke ahead of 21-year-old Matteo Manassero.

Of course, starting hot hasn’t been an issue for McIlroy for much of 2014. Following it up, on the other hand, has been. In his last five PGA Tour starts dating back to the Masters, McIlroy has broken par on Friday just once, at Pinehurst for the U.S. Open, on his way to a 23rd place tie..

Ironically, that was also his worst finish of the bunch, as he shot 77 on Friday at Augusta before tying for eighth place. His opening 63 at the Memorial Tournament was quickly forgotten due to a second-round 78, yet he somehow still tied for 15th. Can you imagine what could have been if he could have just held it together on those days?

I don’t expect McIlroy to struggle too much at Royal Liverpool on Friday unless the weather gets too much worse. Rains and more wind are expected to move in throughout the day, but McIlroy was so accurate on Thursday that any sort of mental breakdown in his game would just be unthinkable on this stage.

One thing is for sure – if McIlroy does struggle, there could be plenty of players ready to take his spot, including Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, or Adam Scott. Scott started in one of the later groups on Thursday, and could benefit from an even earlier start in the second round, before the winds kick in too much from the English coast.

If conditions stay friendly, we could be in for an even better Friday at the Open Championship. Make sure to check in with us here for all the analysis and breakdowns of the day’s events.

Brandon Raper is the lead golf writer for Rant Sports. “Like” him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.