‘You’re McIlroy, what are you doing?’

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The Open 2017: Rory McIlroy ‘proud of hanging in there’
2017 Open Championship on the BBC
Venue: Royal Birkdale Dates: 20-23 July
Live: Listen to BBC Radio 5 live commentary and follow text updates – including in-play video clips – on BBC Sport website and mobile app. TV highlights on BBC Two. Click for full times.
Open leaderboard, round one
-5 J Spieth (US), B Koepka (US), M Kuchar (US); -4 P Casey (Eng), C Schwartzel (SA); -3 I Poulter (Eng), J Thomas (US), R Bland (Eng), A Connelly (Can), C Hoffman (US), R Cabrera-Bello (Spa)
Selected: -2 H Matsuyama (Jpn), M Laird (Sco), R Ramsey (Sco), E Els (SA), B Watson (US), S Manley (Wal); -1 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), H Stenson (Swe), A Johnston (Eng), J Day (Aus), A Scott (Aus), J Rahm (Spa); Level P Lawrie (Sco); +1 D Willett (Eng), J Rose (Eng), R Fowler (US), R McIlroy (NI), D Johnson (US), L Westwood (Eng); +3 P Harrington (Ire), P Mickelson (US) Full leaderboard

Rory McIlroy believes he is “back” in contention for The Open at Royal Birkdale after recovering from a disastrous start to finish one over par and six shots off the lead.

The four-time major winner was five over par after six holes, but had four birdies on the back nine to card a 71.

He revealed caddie JP Fitzgerald lifted him on the sixth tee, saying: “You’re Rory McIlroy, what are you doing?”

Meanwhile, co-leader Jordan Spieth rated his display as “nine out of 10”.

The world number three shot a bogey-free round and is tied for the lead on five under par with fellow Americans Brooks Koepka, the US Open champion, and Matt Kuchar.

However, the 23-year-old will tee off in round two on Friday afternoon, which is when the weather forecast is predicting the strongest wind and heaviest rain.

“Given the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red,” said Spieth, a two-time major winner.

“Everything was strong. I give it a nine across the board for everything – tee balls, ball-striking, short game and putting. So things are in check. It’s just about keeping it consistent.

“I’d call it a top five major round that I’ve played.”

‘Mentally I was not engaged’

Rory McIlroy shot 39 going out and 32 coming back in

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, 28, has struggled for form this year after being affected by a rib injury, and missed the cut at the US Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open in recent weeks.

He said he thought he was destined for “another weekend off” before a pep talk from Fitzgerald changed his round.

He told BBC Radio 5 live: “It was a rough start, I was just indecisive out there. Mentally I was not engaged and I was half caught between playing the golf shot I needed to and my golf swing.

“My caddie JP gave me a talking to which helped to keep me positive. He tried to remind me who I was and that I had won this tournament before. He told me not to feel any pressure and to play my game and I started to play my game after that.

“It was nice to make birdies coming in. At least I feel I got myself back out of the hole I was in and get back into the tournament.

McIlroy, who will tee off at 09:47 BST on Friday, added: “With the weather expected tomorrow I feel like I am still right in this golf tournament. I will go out and play a good quality round of golf in the morning and try and get in the clubhouse somewhere around even par or under par and I will be well there for the weekend.”

The Open 2017: Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson & Matt Kuchar feature in best shots

Rahm ‘would have accepted penalty’

Spain’s Jon Rahm was at the centre of a rules controversy for the second time in two weeks.

He was penalised two shots for moving a plant close to his ball on the 17th hole but the penalty was lifted after rules officials accepted his explanation that the lie of his ball was not improved.

The 22-year-old, who ended one under rather than one over par, moved a piece of vegetation that he thought was dead and therefore a loose impediment. However, playing partner Lee Westwood realised it was growing.

“We asked the rules official. He said improving my lie by moving an impediment that was not loose was a two-stroke penalty.

“That is what we agreed on. They said it was a two-stroke penalty and we were going to review the footage afterwards. Unfortunately for me I was the only one that saw it, there were no cameras to back me up.

“But it was never on my lie, never on my line, never on my swing path. It was not going to bother me any way.

“I explained my version of what happened. Basically after that they made the decision there was no stroke penalty.”

Rahm escaped punishment earlier in the month after a query relating to marking his ball on the sixth green on his way to victory at the Irish Open.

‘My love affair with Royal Birkdale has not changed’

Ian Poulter’s best shots – first round

England’s Ian Poulter was the early clubhouse leader on three under par, after a 67 gave him his lowest opening round in his 54th major.

The 41-year-old missed last year’s tournament with a foot injury that also ruled him out of the Ryder Cup and he was ranked outside the world’s top 200 in March.

He was also in danger of losing his PGA Tour card, however a rule change allowed him to retain it for the remainder of the season.

Poulter was runner-up at the Players Championship in May and is back inside the world’s top 100, but he had to come through qualifying to reach this year’s Open.

“To go out there and post a red number on the board on a good, strong golf course always feels great, ” said Poulter, who was runner-up to Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Open, the last time the tournament was played at Royal Birkdale.

“It feels even better that I had to go through qualifying to get here.”

“I love this golf course, the love affair has not changed since 2008. I remember walking up the last hole with the scorecard in my hand and it was a pretty special feeling. I have gone out there today and performed just as well.”

There were some interesting fashion choices on Thursday. From left Jason Day’s shoes, Justin Thomas’s tie and John Daly’s trousers

Casey’s birthday and Manley’s nerves

England’s Paul Casey is tied for second place on four under par and will celebrate his 40th birthday on Friday.

“I don’t mind working on my birthday,” said Casey.

“Royal Birkdale is one of my favourite links courses, maybe the best in the world. I love being back in England and what a way to spend my birthday doing what I love to do and things are just getting going.

“I am not putting that much pressure on myself, but very much wanting to win it. The odds are in my favour. Seven first-time winners [in the past seven majors]. And it would be a hell of a party.”

Manley takes clubhouse lead with eagle-birdie finish

Wales’ Stuart Manley finished on two under on his major debut and he said his opening round of 68 exceeded his own expectations.

But the 38-year-old admitted he felt the nerves on the first tee.

The world 520, who had an eagle-birdie finish told BBC Radio Wales: “That’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been on a tee shot but at least I know what to expect for tomorrow now and I’ll have a better game plan I guess.”

Manley, who turned professional in 2003, is the only Welshman at Royal Birkdale this week.

He added: “I have quite a few guys up from my local golf club, Mountain Ash, and my family is here so it’s nice to put in a good score for them.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. Maybe tonight when I watch a little golf it’ll sink in but I’m pretty chuffed. I thought par would be a decent score on my first attempt.”

The local lad suffers

Southport-born world number 14 Tommy Fleetwood finished fourth at the US Open and, allied to the fact he used to sneak onto the Royal Birkdale course as a child, had some tipping him for Open success.

But despite plenty of vocal support on the tees – and playing alongside joint leader Brooks Koepka – the 26-year-old felt luck deserted him as he struggled to a six-over-par 76.

“I got a few bad breaks. If I did hit a bad shot it really kicked me in the teeth. Then when I hit good shots I didn’t make the birdie putts,” he said.

Yet Fleetwood is confident he can still hit form for the fans who supported him on day one.

“It’s so easy to feel like you’ve disappointed them a little bit when I played the way I did, but I will try my hardest tomorrow,” he said.

“They did their part, I just didn’t do mine – but I’ve come back from bad rounds before.”

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