ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The Old Course was never faster. The pace of play was never slower.
Thursday's celebrated start of the 150th British Open gave way to Cameron Young making his debut with an 8-under-par 64 for a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy, as well as Tiger Woods making what could be his last competitive appearance at St. Andrews a short one.
His score would indicate as much. The 15-time major champion began his round by hitting out of a divot into the Swilcan Burn for a double bogey. He ended it by taking three putts through the Valley of Sin for a par and a 78, the second-worst score he has posted at any British Open.
Woods will try to avoid leaving early from St. Andrews for the second straight time.
"Looks like I'm going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to have a chance," Woods said. "Guys did it today. And that's my responsibility tomorrow, is to go ahead and do it — need to do it."
Young and McIlroy didn't have to contend with as much wind in the morning, though St. Andrews has experienced far stronger gusts over its centuries of golf. Throw in the humps and mounds and difficult pin positions, and the Old Course held its own.
"It's the fiddliest Open that I've played. It's the only way I can really describe it," said McIlroy, the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland seeking his second British Open victory and fifth major title overall. "OK, the 18th at Carnoustie was like a runway, that fairway. But around the greens here and just all the slopes and undulations and everything, I think as the tournament progresses, you're going to get some funny bounces and it's going to test your patience at times."
Nothing tested the patience like the constant waiting. By late afternoon, the rounds were taking just more than six hours. Players waited on the tee and in the fairway, and it didn't help with so many looking for the best angles to tight pins and playing to the left into other fairways.
"It's the way the golf course is set up. It's how firm it is," reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick said after the Englishman's 72 left him tied for 55th. "The way the golf course is designed ... to get better angles and better lines, you've got to hit across all the fairways. There's nothing you can do, unfortunately, about it.
"It's just sad more than anything. It's just ridiculous."
The trio of Baylor School graduates in the 156-player field managed to stick together on the leaderboard, though not in in ideal manner as Harris English, Luke List and Keith Mitchell were among those tied for 133rd at 4 over. The highlights for English included an eagle on the par-5 fifth.
Good scores were available, and 54 players broke par, 26 of them with rounds in the 60s.
Young was a surprise leader only because it's his first time competing on one of the links courses in the British Open rotation. He is putting together one of the better rookie seasons on the PGA Tour, and the 25-year-old New Yorker is not the least bit daunted by the stage. Just two months ago, he contended into the final hour of the PGA Championship until finishing one shot out of a playoff.
Young played smartly Thursday and took advantage of the birdie chances. He reached 7 under through 12 holes with the wind helping on the inward nine. He missed two good chances, finished with a birdie and, most importantly, kept bogeys off his card.
"I don't think that I played a perfect round of golf," Young said. "I scored really well. And I think we thought our way around the way you have to out there."
Young figures he knows only a fraction of the secrets to the Old Course — no one ever really figures it all out with so many conditions on the ground and in the air — and there was one occasion on the par-5 fifth when he looked at his note in the yardage book: "Hard left is better than right." He went left and made birdie.
Said Young: "We did stuff like that a few times today."
The Players Championship winner Cameron Smith and English qualifier Robert Dinwiddie each had a 67 and were tied for third. Dinwiddie had the best score of the afternoon, when the wind was at its strongest. The large group at 68 included top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, two-time major winner Dustin Johnson and even Barclay Brown, the English amateur who plays at Stanford.
Xander Schauffele (69), coming off his second straight win last week, was part of the pack tied for 13th.
Scheffler tried to explain just how fast the links were playing by suggesting the ball was rolling faster on the fairways than on the greens. Than he realized that actually was the case. It gets that way at St. Andrews when the ground is crispy and golf's oldest championship comes to the gray old town.
"They are?" Scheffler said. "I'm glad I'm not losing my mind."
McIlroy looked free as ever at St. Andrews, his first time here for the British Open since 2010. His game is in good shape and he piled up five birdies through 12 holes, with only one careless play that led to his lone bogey on the 13th.
"Fantastic start. Just what you hope will happen when you're starting off your week," said McIlroy, who won the tournament's 2012 edition at Royal Liverpool. "I did everything that you're supposed to do around St Andrews."
Then again, good starts are nothing new this year for McIlroy. He led the PGA Championship after 18 holes and was one shot behind after the first round of the U.S. Open. Both times, he couldn't hold it together until he had fallen too far behind to catch up.
"I need to go out tomorrow," he said, "and back up what I just did today."
Reigning tourney champion Collin Morikawa struggled with his putting and was tied for 55th after a 72. Morikawa knew how long of a day he was in for when there was a group on the fifth tee and the group ahead was just starting to walk toward the fairway.
"Xander and I talked about it. We're watching more golf than we ever have," said Morikawa, referring to how he and Schauffele both rarely watch on TV. "You stay in the fairway and you're watching two other groups play golf."
It was hard to watch Woods at times. He was was 6 over through seven holes, missing more putts than usual and missing left off the tee. His tee shot on No. 7 was so far left that it wound up in a bunker in the 12th fairway, leading to another double bogey.
He made consecutive birdies around the turn, but there was little else to celebrate.
Woods had pointed to this week even as his shattered right leg from a February 2021 car crash kept him from playing. The event probably won't return to St. Andrews for another five years, and the 46-year-old Woods can't help but wonder if he'll be playing at a high level by then.
"This was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it. And I am," he said. "And just didn't do a very good job of it."