Technically, this isn’t really Rory McIlroy’s backyard, Aberdeen is a good 275 miles including a ferry ride away from County Down, but the former No. 1 is certainly playing like he’s at home.
McIlroy fired a 7-under 64 to lead the field after 18 holes of the Scottish Open at the Royal Aberdeen, the big tune-up before next week’s British Open.
McIlroy fired seven birdies and hit just one bogey, with the birdies all coming in a span between No. 5 and No. 14.
He leads Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez and Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg by a single stroke, and another nine players are within four strokes of the lead.
For Gonzalez and Broberg, a top three finish would be just as good as the title. Both players have yet to qualify for the Open, but a top three here finish would guarantee that.
In addition, Broberg currently ranks 61st in the Race to Dubai standings – the top 60 players make the final tournament of the year.
Gonzalez looked like he would be the leader in the clubhouse with his play on the first 12 holes. He was 3-under at the turn, and started the back nine off with two birdies and an eagle to drop to 7-under before bogeying 13 and 16.
McIlroy’s fellow native of Northern Ireland, Michael Hoey, is alone in fourth place at 5-under.
Four players are tied at 4-under, including England’s Luke Donald, and another four are tied for ninth at 3-under, notably American Phil Mickelson, the defending champion here and at the Open.
Mickelson was at even par until an eagle 3 on the 428-yard No. 6. He added back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 but bogeyed No. 18 to fall back a stroke.
Included in an 11-man glut at 2-under is 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose and recently-turned-pro Brit Matthew Fitzpatrick. The 20-year-old Fitzpatrick has Top 30 finishes at his first two tournaments and at 166th in the Race to Dubai standings, could conceivably crack that field if he continues to play beyond his years.
Race to Dubai leader Thomas Bjorn is tied for 24th at 1-under, while Jamie Donaldson and Miguel Angel Jimenez got off to ugly starts with matching 3-over 74s. Jimenez bogeyed the last three holes of his round, while Donaldson had a miserable stretch of bogey, double bogey, bogey on 14-16.