McIlroy produces stunning start to finish six under on first day of The Open as he bids for first Claret Jug since 2014
RORY McILROY is holding off the charge of the LIV brigade after a storming start to The Open.
McIlroy shot 66 on day one but has a gaggle of golf’s rebel stars breathing down his neck at St Andrews.
He is a fierce critic of the breakaway Saudi-backed series, which has split the sport in two in a bitter civil war.
Ian Poulter was BOOED on the first tee but fellow Brit rebel Lee Westwood hit back at Tiger Woods’ claim that anyone jumping ship is betraying the game.
Now McIlroy — the 2014 champ — is on a crusade to stop any LIV star from lifting the Claret Jug this year.
But Westwood hit a four under-par 68, then snapped: “Woods has a vested interest. Players on the PGA Tour talk up that tour — and players on the LIV tour talk that up.
“I respect Tiger as a golfer. I don’t pay too much attention to people’s opinions.
“There is no animosity between players. I have had a fantastic reception from the galleries. The public want to see good golf and the R&A want the best player to win.”
Poulter posted a 69 to join Westwood and American LIV rebels Dustin Johnson, Bryson Dechambeau and Talor Gooch on the first page of the leaderboard.
The Open has been overshadowed by a growing divide between players jumping ship to LIV — and those staying loyal.
THE OPEN BETTING SPECIAL
Open chiefs the R&A dismissed the new set-up as merely money motivated, while McIlroy reckons it would be better if this year’s winner was not a LIV defector.
Poulter said he did not hear any heckling — though he hooked his first shot of the tournament onto the opposite fairway.
He said: “I thought I had a great reception. I’ve always had respect for all my peers I play golf with and don’t think that’s going to change one bit.
“So even the people that have been vocal have been pretty decent to me.”
McIlroy looks in his best shape, physically and mentally, for years as he chases his fifth Major.
He said: “I came in here playing well and I’ve played this course well over the years. So I knew if I just went out there and stuck to my game plan, that something like this was possible.”
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