Rory McIlroy fired an early warning shot across the bows of his rivals ahead of next week's Open Championship as he powered to the head of the field during round one of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.
On a largely pleasant, but menacingly windy, day the Northern Irishman shot a course record seven-under 64 to finish a stroke clear of Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg and Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina. Phil Mickelson, the reigning Scottish Open and Open champion, began his title defence with a 68 before unwittingly letting the cat out of the bag by indicating that Gullane will stage the 2015 Scottish Open.
The East Lothian course had been widely tipped to be the next host with confirmation expected this weekend. Mickelson appears to be in the know. "Royal Aberdeen is a great course and a great way to prepare for the Open. So was Castle Stuart and so too will Gullane [be]," he said.
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It was McIlroy who grabbed all the attention yesterday with a superb, controlled display of links golf. Ahead of next week's Open at Hoylake, this was another telling sign that the former world No.1 is ready to up the ante in the game's oldest major and mount a serious assault on the Claret Jug.
A year ago, amid the trials and tribulations of his well-documented switch of equipment and off-course issues, McIlroy missed the halfway cut in the Open at Muirfield and admitted to feeling "brain dead".
Here at Royal Aberdeen, a rejuvenated McIlroy insisted that his mental approach is as good as it has ever been, while his ability to deliver the shots required for the links test continues to bolster his confidence.
"It's chalk and cheese from this time last year to now," said McIlroy, the two-time major champion. "I mean, it's just polar opposites. This time last year, I was searching for something. I was trying to get the ball under control, I was working on a few things on my swing and I was not really confident about anything.
"This year is, obviously, a little different. Mentally? It's up there. I'm more confident in my ability and I'm more confident than ever about hitting the shots I need to in winds like this. I feel as though I'm prepared as I ever have been to play this sort of golf."