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Not many things could heighten the expectations and anticipation for Rory McIlroy ahead of the 2023 Open at Royal Liverpool — the site of his his Open triumph in 2014. However, a victory at the 2023 Scottish Open would qualify. After opening with a stellar 6-under 64, McIlroy appears to be well on his way to contending at The Renaissance Club as he trails first-round leader Byeong Hun An by three.

"I'm very excited. I've only been back to I think one major venue that I've won season since, which was Kiawah back a couple years ago…Yeah, it will be really cool. It will be really cool to go back there," McIlroy said. "So I think playing links golf this week as well, definitely just helps me get acclimatized to conditions and the grass type and everything else. There's a lot of golf to be played before going down to Liverpool, and I want to play well the next three days."

McIlroy may be the only major champion inside the top 10 of the leaderboard, but he is not the only threat to An. Two-time PGA Tour winner Tom Kim has rediscovered some form at the venue which launched him onto the radar of golf fans near and wide. The young South Korean stands at 4 under alongside Max Homa with Sam Burns and Rickie Fowler one worse.

A logjam emerges a touchdown and extra point behind An at 2 under. 2021 Scottish Open Min Woo Lee rebounded nicely from an opening double bogey and finds himself among a star-studded cast that includes Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Matt Fitzpatrick and Justin Thomas.

The leader

1. Byeong Hun An (-9)

Beginning his day on the back nine, An would find his groove with four straight birdies from Nos. 13-16. Turning in 5 under, the former DP World Tour member tacked on additional birdies in the early portion of his second nine before connecting from distance on his last to tie the course record. 

The start to An's summer has been rather lackluster as he has missed two of three cuts, but this season as a whole has been a success. Regaining his footing on the PGA Tour, the former U.S. Amateur champion looked to a new broomstick-style putter to complement his jaw-dropping length and competent tee-to-green game. Heeding the advice of Adam Scott and Si Woo Kim, An's full array of shots and talent was on display Thursday.

"I love it [links golf]," An said. "I started on The Challenge Tour playing links course and played The Open many times. I like links golf. It's different than the courses we play in the U.S. You just have to land it in different spots. I really like it and as long as the weather is nice, and I prefer warm weather, but (on) a links course, I feel comfortable. It can get tricky hitting shots into but I think I did well today."

Other contenders

2. Davis Riley (-7)
T3. Rory McIlroy, Thomas Detry (-6)
T5. Yannik Paul, K.H. Lee (-5)
T7. Julien Brun, Max Homa, Will Gordon, Ewen Ferguson, Oliver Bekker, David Lingmerth, Ross Fisher, Tom Kim, Sami Valimaki (-4)

McIlroy's Open victory nine years ago started a stretch not seen since. Claiming the Claret Jug at Hoylake, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in a three-tournament stretch, McIlroy enjoyed one of the great summers of recent history. Could a win at the Scottish Open produce something similar? I wouldn't count it out as he has been one of the best to thrive on momentum, and a win leading up to The Open may be what the doctor ordered to break his major drought.

"I think putting more than any -- I got off to a great start, a really fast start, 5-under through seven and held a couple of really nice putts," McIlroy said. "Probably the one thing I was not worried about going into today. But more so like I was questioning, it didn't feel like I had maybe had enough time to adjust to links greens, and I didn't putt very well in the Pro-Am yesterday. But I got my eye in early and that was nice to see."

Could Scheffler's streak be in jeopardy?

The world's No. 1 player has not only not missed a cut this year, but he hasn't finished outside the top 12. After nine holes at The Renaissance Club, Scheffler found himself over par and with work to do to continue his streak of 18 top-12 finishes dating back to October 2022. Three back-nine birdies propelled Scheffler inside the top 30 at 2 under, but the putter continues to be uncooperative. He ranked outside the top 120 in strokes gained putting Thursday and will need to see that club behave if his historic run is to continue.

Justin Thomas makes a putting switch

The two-time PGA champion entered the week having missed three-of-four cuts and four-of-eight cuts dating back to the Masters. He has tried everything under the sun when it comes to improving his putting, and he has now switched his grip. Going left hand low (or what some may refer to as crosshand), Thomas looks for this change to supercharge his season as he fights for a spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team.

"I felt like there were definitely a couple putts I could have made," Thomas told the PGA Tour. "My lag putting was tremendous today, which to me was the biggest question mark coming in. I feel like my hands are something that I use to my advantage, and changing that up, trying to hit putts from 60, 70, 80 feet, I wasn't sure if I was going to go conventional or not."

Despite what it may have felt like, Thomas still ranked outside the top 100 in strokes gained putting Thursday.

2023 Scottish Open updated odds and picks

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Rory McIlroy: 14/5
  • Byeong Hun An: 11/2
  • Scottie Scheffler: 9-1
  • Max Homa: 14-1
  • Rickie Fowler: 16-1
  • Davis Riley: 16-1
  • Thomas Detry: 18-1
  • Tom Kim: 25-1
  • Tommy Fleetwood: 30-1
  • Wyndham Clark: 35-1
  • Matt Fitzpatrick: 35-1

The 2022 Scottish Open began with a player firing a 9-under 61 only to see the winning score come in at 7 under. With weather and winds rolling into North Berwick expect this leaderboard to condense even more. 

With this in mind, Wyndham Clark at 35-1 may be worth a chance. The U.S. Open winner was brilliant from tee to green in Round 1, specifically with his irons, and carded three birdies against one bogey. He trails McIlroy by four and should enjoy the calmer conditions Friday. He will need to be better with the putter (ranked 127th in strokes gained putter) but will be able to recalibrate his speed with 18 holes under his belt. Padraig Harrington at 90-1 could also be interesting as he had a similar statistical output.