A struggling Rory McIlroy admited he needed a kick up the backside from caddie JP Fitzgerald to get his Open back on track after it looked like he was crashing halfway through his first round.
The Northern Irishman, winner of the Claret Jug at nearby Royal Liverpool in 2014 and a four-time major winner, recovered from a perilous five over after just six holes at Royal Birkdale to stage an impressive four-birdie recovery after the turn to card a one-over 71.
McIlroy has missed three cuts in the last four tournaments and his Open challenge looked to be be over before it had begun until he was jolted out of his malaise by Fitzgerald.
“It was on the sixth tee. JP gave me a good talking to and sort of reminded me of who I was,” said the 28-year-old, who is six shots off the lead held by American trio Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and newly-crowned US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
“Thankfully he’s not had to do it too often and he’s never afraid to do that and I feel today it helped a lot more than at other times because I needed something.
“That helped and that got me back in a positive frame of mind. At that point I mumbled and said ‘Whatever’ but it definitely helped.”
Fellow Northern Irishman and former Open champion Darren Clarke admitted he found it difficult to watch as McIlroy floundered early in his round.
“I find it sad to watch. He is struggling at the moment,” he said.
However, McIlroy has proved in the past he is made of stern stuff and a 18-foot birdie putt at the last completely changed his perspective of his round.