Hoylake, England (SportsNetwork.com)- Rory McIlory took advantage of relatively benign conditions on Thursday as he fired a 6-under at the Open Championship and took a 1-stroke lead after the opening round.
McIlroy, who missed the cut last year, shared third at the Open in 2010. His next best finish is a tie for 25th in 2011.
Matteo Manassero, the 2013 BMW PGA Championship winner, is alone in second place at minus-5. Manassero has missed the cut in two of the last three Opens, and didn't play in 2013.
World No. 1 Adam Scott and Shane Lowry posted the best score of the later tee times. They carded 4-under 68s as the breeze freshened. They were joined in third place by the Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, along with Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka. Garcia played in the final group in the final round with Tiger Woods in 2006 at Royal Liverpool.
Woods, who is playing his first major of the year, is one stroke further back at minus-3 and headlines a group of 10 players tied for 10th. The three-time champion was joined at 3-under by Marc Leishman, Robert Karlsson, Rickie Fowler, Koumei Oda, Hideki Matsuyama, Jimmy Walker, Boo Weekley and Yoshinobu Tsukada.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson struggled to a 2-over 74.
McIlroy, who teed off two groups after Woods, stuffed his approach at the second within a foot and kicked that in for an early birdie. He converted back-to-back birdies at five and six to move to minus-3.
The two-time major champion got up and down for a birdie on the par-5 10th, then rolled in a 12-footer for birdie on the 12th to gain the lead at minus-5.
McIlroy, who missed the cut last year at Muirfield, found sand with his second on the par-5 16th, but he again got up and down for birdie to become the first to reach 6-under. He parred the final two holes to close out a bogey-free round.
"Anytime you shoot 66 at the Open Championship, you're going to be pleased," said McIlroy. "We had perfect scoring conditions out there this morning. plenty of opportunities to make birdies."
McIlroy's problem this year has been second rounds. He has been over par in five of his last seven second rounds.
"I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm putting a little too much pressure on myself. I just told myself this week to take it one shot at a time," McIlroy stated. "I'm at 6-under right now for the tournament and hopefully tomorrow I can get to 7-(under) and then get to 8-under, and keep trying to improve."
Manassero got off to a quick start with birdies on one and three. After five pars in a row, he tripped to a bogey on the ninth. Around the turn, Manassero birdied the 10th and 11th, but dropped another shot at No. 12.
The Italian flew into second place with a strong finish. Manassero birdied three of the last four holes to jump to minus-5.
"Very, very pleased actually. It's just a perfect start. It was calm and just a really nice day," said Manassero. "Birdies were out there, but this golf course is not easy. You have to play really solid. You have to play smart, a few times just take your par and go. To make seven birdies, you have to have some long putts drop."
Woods found sand with his second to the first and blasted over the green from a bad lie. He got up and down for bogey, then also missed a short par putt on the second to drop to plus-2.
The 2006 winner at Hoylake started to fight back with a birdie on the par-5 fifth. After five pars in a row, he rolled in a birdie effort from off the green at 11. Woods hit 6-iron to the next two greens.
On the 12th, he left himself six feet and at the 13th, he was about eight feet out. Woods converted both birdie efforts. However, his run of three straight birdies ended at the 14th, where he stumbled to a bogey.
Woods came right back with a 10-foot birdie effort on the 15th. He made it two in a row as he got up and down for birdie from a bunker on No. 16, and parred the final two to end there.
"Not exactly the greatest of starts, but I turned it around and grinded my way around," Woods stated. "Felt that even though I was 2-over through two, I still had four par-5s to go and I still had a couple other short holes that if I could just play those holes well, and play the tougher holes even par, I'd be somewhere under par."
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion, Bill Haas and PGA Champion Jason Dufner headline those at 2-under 70. Dustin Johnson, 2009 winner Stewart Cink, Hunter Mahan, Lee Westwood and former Masters champions Charl Schwartzel and Zach Johnson are in a large group at minus-1.
Henrik Stenson, 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose and 2011 champ Darren Clarke are at even-par, while Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, reigning U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer and five-time winner Tom Watson posted 1-over 73s.
Former major champions Justin Leonard, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Ben Curtis are at plus-2, while Angel Cabrera, Bubba Watson and Nick Faldo managed 4-over 76s.
NOTES: McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in first-round scoring average (68.00), but is just 181st in second round scoring average (72.89) ... Since 1975, just five first-round leaders have won this championship ... When Woods won at Hoylake in 2006, he opened with a 67 and was one off the lead.