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Rory McIlroy was relieved to escape with a par on his rollercoaster final hole to remain firmly in the mix at The Open.

Pre-tournament favourite McIlroy opened up his Open campaign with a level-par 71 at Royal Liverpool on Thursday.

He is well placed five shots back from overnight leaders Tommy Fleetwood, Emiliano Grillo and South African amateur Christo Lamprecht.

• The Open round-up: Inspired Fleetwood leads

• The Open: An early morning unlike any other

But that only tells half the story.

The Northern Irishman was battling to stay in the hunt on a difficult day at Hoylake where deceiving cross-winds and tricky pin positions made low scoring challenging.

He reached the par-4 14th struggling lacking inspiration with the putter at two-over-par but back-to-back birdies helped him jump up the tightly-packed leaderboard.

McIlroy’s bid to replicate his Open glory at this Wirral venue in 2014 was in jeopardy on the 18th, though, as his second shot on the par-5 18th finished right up against the face of the greenside bunker.

The four-time major champion’s first attempt to exit the sand sideways failed as he left his ball in the trap, but he managed a potential crisis exceptionally.

A brilliantly judged stab out of the bunker was followed by a sweetly-struck 10ft par putt and a huge roar, with McIlroy’s first pump showing just how important his save really was.

“These bunkers are really tough,” he said when asked about 18. “You ever seem to go into the middle of them, and you’re always up against the face.

“I actually got lucky because that could have gone into the deeper part of my footprint and I might have been there all night. It was great to get away with a five there.

“I felt like I actually played okay,” he added. “I missed a couple putts on the front nine but started to get the putter going a little bit on the back nine which was nice to see.

• Who is The Open’s newest star Christo Lamprecht?

“It was tricky out there this afternoon, the wind was blowing a little bit, it felt it was hard to get close to some pins.

“I felt anything in the 60s would be quite a good score, I didn’t quite get there but after bogeying a couple of holes on the front there I could have let the round get away from me and I didn’t.

“Even par is a solid start, I wouldn’t have minded being a couple lower but I’ll take it.”

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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