Not for the first time this season, Rory McIlroy started a tournament in brilliant fashion with a course-record 64 in the opening round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Now all the former world number one needs to do is avoid his ‘Friday curse’ to take another step towards a second European Tour title in four events and give himself a boost ahead of next week’s Open Championship.
Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg had established a new record of 65 at a windswept Royal Aberdeen after going out in the first group at 6:30am, but that lasted two hours as McIlroy carded eight birdies – including six in seven holes around the turn – and just one bogey.
The 25-year-old used the 20mph winds to his advantage in amazing fashion on the 13th, driving the green on the downhill 436-yard par four. But he was equally pleased by the controlled iron shots which went 50 yards less than usual after practice for links golf following his “lads holiday” in Ibiza paid off.
McIlroy said: “Everything was pretty much on. I controlled my ball flight really well which is the key to me playing well in these conditions and on these courses.
“I’ve been working the last 10 days on keeping the ball down, hitting easy shots and taking spin off it and I went out there today and really trusted what I practised.”
McIlroy revealed he had also driven the 13th in Wednesday’s pro-am, although it probably still came as a shock to the group ahead who were still on the green - which included Ian Poulter.
“I’m driving the ball really well and I feel if I can get driver in my hand and have an advantage on the field I should do it,” he added.
“Going out this morning in these conditions I thought anything in the 60s would be a good score so to shoot something better than that is pleasing.
“I told Poulter it was a 3-wood but it was a driver. He was on the green trying to flex his muscles.”
It is the fourth time in 13 events McIlroy has shot 64 or better in an opening round this season, but the two-time major winner has won none of those tournaments.
His first-round scoring average of just under 68 leads the PGA Tour but his second-round average is almost five shots worse.
“I’ve got off to a lot of good starts and tended to fall away. Hopefully that won’t be the case this week,” McIlroy added.
“It’s more mental than anything but I am really comfortable with my game at the minute.”
McIlroy famously said after the 2011 Open at Sandwich that there was no point in changing his game for one week a year, while 12 months ago he missed the cut at Muirfield and labelled his own play “brain dead” following an opening 79.
“It’s chalk and cheese,” he added. “This time last year I was trying to get the ball under control and not really too confident with anything and this year is totally different.
“I’m more confident than ever in my ability to hit the shots I need in this sort of golf. I’m going to make it my favourite style of golf for two weeks of the year!”
The scoring overall was excellent in the conditions, with McIlroy leading by one from Broberg and Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez, with fellow Northern Irishman Ulsterman Michael Hoey another shot back on five under after covering the back nine in 29 with four birdies and an eagle.
Gonzalez was somewhat hoarse after cheering on his country’s football team in their World Cup semi-final win over Holland but he added: “I think it’s one of the best rounds of this year and that’s why I’m very happy now. To make 65 on that wonderful course, with my son on the bag, that’s great.
“I enjoyed the match and maybe this is the key to play well, to relax and enjoy the day. I would like Argentina to win the World Cup and also if I can win here it would be amazing. It’s my dream.”