McIlroy could then only manage one birdie on the back nine - at the 15th - to finish on two-under 208 and nine shots behind Spieth.
A 1-under 69 just didn't cut it on a day of flawless conditions when Branden Grace was shooting 62 - the lowest ever score at a major - and Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar were shooting 65 and 66, respectively, in the final group.
We did say he would get back to his best, and are delighted he showed something close to the level of performance his fans - and McIlroy himself - expect, given his innate talent. "I made some key up-and-downs on the start of the back nine", he told Sky Sports.
McIlroy was five over par after six holes of his opening round and seemed destined for a fourth missed cut in five events until a stern talking to from caddie JP Fitzgerald prompted a back-nine rally.
Kuchar mixed four bogeys with three birdies to keep the morning challengers at bay. McIlroy came within a foot of a birdie on the second, but accepted his two-putt par. There's a good chance that McIlroy, who sat T11 at the end of his round, will be inside the top five by tonight. I'm going to play hard for him and for everyone'.
Three-time Major champ Spieth drained a 20ft birdie putt on the last to sit on 11 under as Rory McIlroy also melted at Birkdale. Whether McIlroy gets the best of it or not will be crucial tomorrow with him on the other side of the draw to most of the early leaders.
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Spieth, the 2015 Masters and US Open champion, leads by three from his fellow American Matt Kuchar , who sits at eight under par. Coming off three missed cuts in his last four events, he was 5 over through six holes when his caddie gave him a pep talk.
"I just wanted to continue with that good feeling from the last few holes (on Thursday) and went out with that positivity and trust in myself and just need to keep that for the next two days".
McIlroy has missed the cut at three of his last four tournaments the U.S. Open, the Irish Open and the Scottish Open and said he was "nervous. anxious, timid" as he teed off alongside Dustin Johnson and Charl Schwartzel in one of the marquee afternoon groups. And I went with those and it worked.
"But, look, I just had to turn it around". Today's 68 beat the field average by more than six strokes, and boosted him up the leaderboard by more than 45 spots.
"I was very proud of myself that I hung in there and tried to stay as positive as I possibly could".
"They're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks", he added. I didn't let my head drop too much.
"I'm happy because I finished the first round 1-over".
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