Graeme McDowell not for pressing any panic alarms after opening round of Open Championship

Graeme McDowell tees off during day one of The Open Championship
Graeme McDowell tees off during day one of The Open Championship

Graeme McDowell made a steady start to The Open Championship on THursday after carding an opening round of level par.

The Portrush star parred the opening nine holes before posting two birdies and two birdies.

The round of 72 leaves him seven shots off leader Dustin Johnson who posted a superb round of seven-under-par to lead by one over a posse of players including Retief Goosen and Jason Day.

Darren Clarke was one shot worse off than fellow Ulsterman McDowell after he carded a one-over-par round of 73.

McDowell said he wasn’t ready to push any panic buttons despite sitting seven shots off the lead.

“I wasn’t wondering what the leaders were doing today,” he said.

“I just wanted to make sure I stayed in touch with the top of the leaderboard and not press any panic buttons.

“Even par isn’t too bad. Hopefully I can get a little sharpness on the greens and get into the tournament.”

Reflecting on his round, Clarke said: “Tee to green I’m very happy with the way I’m striking it.

“I hit the ball very nicely and controlled the ball well but I couldn’t buy a putt. The ball just wouldn’t go in.”

For all the talk of history, the 144th Open Championship bore remarkable similarities to the US Open played just a month earlier as Johnson and Jordan Spieth renewed their rivalry at St Andrews.

As he did at Chambers Bay, Johnson carded an opening 65 to claim the lead, with Spieth this time a shot closer thanks to a five-under 67 which made a mockery of concerns about a lack of preparation in his bid for a third straight major.

With the course initially defenceless before the wind strengthened, 1999 champion Paul Lawrie, England’s Danny Willett, Jason Day, Retief Goosen, Zach Johnson and Robert Streb all shot 66, with US Open runner-up and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen among those to match Spieth’s score.

Sweden’s David Lingmerth even raised hopes of the first 62 in major history with a record-equalling front nine of 29, but Tiger Woods duffed his approach to the first into the Swilcan Burn and limped to a 76, his worst score as a professional in the Open at St Andrews.

However, attention was rightly focused on match 17, with Spieth chasing the third leg of an unprecedented calendar grand slam and Johnson trying to claim a first major title after his latest near-miss.

Somewhat mischievously paired together by the R&A, the American duo matched each other almost shot for shot in covering the front nine in 31 and reaching six under after 12.

Spieth proved he is human after all with bogeys on the 13th and 17th - where he found the famous Road Hole bunker - before holing a curling birdie putt from 20 feet on the last.

“I’m very pleased with the start,” said the 21-year-old, who is aiming to match Woods and Ben Hogan in winning three majors in a season. “I saw a 65 in our group and if DJ keeps driving it the way he is, then I’m going to have to play my best golf to have a chance.

“It’s hard to argue with somebody who’s splitting bunkers at about 380 yards and just two-putting for birdie on five or six of the holes.”

p Irish amateur Paul Dunne finished the day on three under while a quadruple-bogey at the 17th hole saw Shane Lowry finish with a 73.

Two-time champion Padraig Harrington was among the afternoon starters and was level par following a 72.