Defending champion Rory McIlroy makes strong start at Scottish Open

Rory McIlroy bounced back from his US Open heartbreak to make a strong start to the defence of his Scottish Open title as a “p***** off” Justin Thomas missed out on creating history.

Competing for the first time since agonisingly missing out on a fifth major title at Pinehurst, McIlroy carded a five-under-par 65 at the Renaissance Club to lie three shots behind leader Thomas, who returned a flawless 62.

Just the second 59 in DP World Tour history was a distinct possibility when Thomas covered his first 13 holes in eight under on the par-70 layout, but the two-time major winner could only par the last five holes.

“I thought the par was 71 and then I looked up and I saw it was 70 and I was like, ‘I just need a couple more’ (birdies) and I can shoot 59,” Thomas said.

“And then, shocking, I made five pars in a row so that kind of p***** me off. I definitely wanted a 59 and was even thinking a couple lower, so we all know how that works out when you get ahead of yourself.

“But it’s always good to get off to a good start, and even better to get off to a great one. I felt like I was in great control of everything.”

On a day of low scoring, Thomas enjoyed a one-shot lead over South Korea’s Sungjae Im, with Ryder Cup star Ludvig Aberg on six under and McIlroy part of a large group on five under which included Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.

McIlroy chipped in for an eagle on the third hole, his 12th of the day, and also recorded five birdies, but missed good chances on three of his last five holes.

“I hit a couple of shots over the first few holes that I haven’t seen in practice over the last 10 days so it was a bit of a reminder that golf isn’t as easy as sometimes I think it is,” McIlroy said with a smile.

“But then I really started to feel good. Especially on the front nine, our back nine, I started to hit some good drives, some good iron shots.

“I gave myself plenty of chances on that back nine and actually felt like I left a couple out there as well. Overall a good start, especially after the scrappy start over the first six or seven holes.”

McIlroy briefly held a two-shot lead with five holes to play in the US Open but bogeyed three of the last four, missing from two feet and six inches on the 16th and three feet and nine inches on the last to finish a shot behind Bryson DeChambeau.

“I’m not going to let three or four holes cloud my judgement in terms of how good I’m playing,” the 35-year-old added.

“It wasn’t just the US Open. I played well at the Canadian Open and at Memorial and the US PGA and Quail Hollow. My game has been in good shape and it was in good shape coming in here.

“It’s just a matter of going out there and focusing on the task at hand and not letting your mind wander too much. I felt like I did a good job of that today.”

Fleetwood, who lost out in a play-off for this event in 2020, was delighted to have long-term caddie Ian Finnis back on the bag after undergoing open-heart surgery earlier this year.

“It feels great,” Fleetwood said after a round containing five birdies and no bogeys.

“It feels nice to have had a really good round in his first week, for him more than anything. We did a great job. Everything sort of flowed, really, today. He made a couple of great decisions, so it’s like he’s not been away.”

Home favourite Robert MacIntyre, who was denied victory 12 months ago by a stunning birdie-birdie finish by McIlroy in testing conditions, carded five birdies and two bogeys in an opening 68.