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Darren Clarke plays his second shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019.AR/Getty Images

An emotional opening shot by Darren Clarke. A shocking one by Rory McIlroy.

Tiger Woods had his worst score to start a British Open. Brooks Koepka quickly got into contention again.

Emiliano Grillo made a one. David Duval made a 14.

The Open returned to Royal Portrush after a 68-year absence and made up for lost time with an unusual amount of theatre Thursday. When more than 15 hours of golf before a robust, sellout crowd finally ended, J.B. Holmes was atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time in 11 years.

Even that might have been fitting. The big hitter from a small town in Kentucky had his first taste of links golf at Royal Portrush during a college trip, and he recalled how the caddies kept giving him the wrong lines off the tee because they had never seen anyone hit it that far.

Holmes drove the downwind 374-yard fifth hole to 12 feet for a two-putt birdie, and he ended with a 5-iron into the wind to 15 feet for a final birdie and a five-under 66.

“You just have to accept the conditions over here and not get too greedy,” Holmes said.

He had a one-shot lead over Shane Lowry of Ireland, who didn’t have the level of expectations or the connection to Royal Portrush that Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, Clarke or native son Graeme McDowell have.

“I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys,” Lowry said.

Woods’s magical Masters victory in April is quickly turning into a memory as he struggles to find the balance between playing and making sure his back holds up. He has played only 10 rounds since Augusta National, and this was one to forget. Woods three-putted for bogey on No. 5, bladed a chip on No. 6 for a double bogey and stretched his arms in mock triumph when he finally made a birdie – his only birdie – on No. 15.

He ended with another bogey for a 78, matching his third-worst score in a major.

“Playing at this elite level is a completely different deal,” Woods said. “You’ve got to be spot on. These guys are too good. There are too many guys that are playing well and I’m just not one of them.”

The Dunluce Links held up beautifully in such lush conditions, and so did the reputation of Northern Ireland’s ever-changing coastal weather. There was a blue sky and dark clouds, a strong breeze and a stiff wind, shadows and showers, all within an hour’s time.

“I took on and put off my rain gear probably at least nine times in nine holes,” Matt Kuchar said.

Even so, the scoring was good, without anyone being great.

The large group at 68 included Koepka, who has won three of the past six majors and looked very much capable of adding the third leg of the Grand Slam. Koepka was tied for the lead at one point until he made his lone bogey on the 17th hole. He has been runner-up twice and won the PGA Championship this year. He started out the final major in a tie for third after the first round.

As usual, Koepka keeps it simple, and it helps to have Ricky Elliott as his caddy. Elliott grew up at Portrush and knows the course as well as anyone.

“It’s easy when he’s just standing on the tee telling you to hit it in this spot and I just listen to him,” Koepka said. “I don’t have to think much. I don’t have to do anything. I figure out where the miss is and where I’m trying to put it and then go from there.”

Jon Rahm, a two-time Irish Open winner at nearby Portstewart and in the south at Lahinch two weeks ago, joined Holmes and Webb Simpson as the only players to reach five under at any point during the day. The Spaniard was particularly sharp from around the greens, controlling chips and putts beautifully. He ran out of luck late, however, missing a five-foot par putt on the 16th and dropping another shot on the 18th.

Even so, 68 was his best score in his fourth British Open.

Forty-one players broke par, and 15 of them were within three shots of the lead. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was the top Canadian at 72, followed by Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., at 74 and Canadian/American dual citizen Austin Connelly at 75.

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