It wouldn't be an Open ­Championship at Royal Liverpool without a few ropey references to the Beatles.

Readers of a vintage may know the B-side of that well-kent single "Paperback Writer" is a number called "Rain". They were expecting a fair bit of that here at Hoylake yesterday, amongst other meteorological menaces.

For newspaper writers, meanwhile, the rain brings much pain. Delays and deadlines make a hard day's night. As it turned out, the mournful predictions of biblical downpours and disruptive thunderstorms didn't materialise during play and we were all done and dusted before tea.

Loading article content

The only rumblings in the air came from a few pious, pretentious chin-strokers who whined that the cautious decision to have a two-tee start for the first time in Open history, just in case the weather turned devastatingly foul, had robbed the game's oldest Major of some of its lustre. They wouldn't have been so dewy-eyed and nostalgic had Mother Nature unleashed her full fury and we lurched towards a Monday finish.

The ferocious and prolonged deluge that came clattering down just after play finished justified the Royal & Ancient's decision. For once, the heid honchos were showered with praise.

Admittedly, the two-tee start on Open Saturday did make for a slightly odd occasion and the 11.01 tee-off time on opposite sides of the draw illustrated this sense of the unusual. On the first, Rory McIlroy enjoyed the big, rapturous walk on to the tee and was set on his way by the unmistakeable vocal frolics of official starter Ivor Robson.

At the same moment Tiger Woods had a lower-key trudge on to the 10th. You half-expected an inflatable Robson perched on it with a recorded "On the tee..." piped in by loud speaker. Instead it was Invernesian Mike Stewart, a European Tour official, who performed the Robson role. In a way, it symbolised the changing of the golfing guard: McIlroy the star attraction, with Woods muddling on in the margins.

As the rain drifted away, McIlroy reigned supreme. Another Northern Irishman was also ­proving a dab hand on the links. Darren Clarke has lost more stones than an absent-minded curler - four, in fact, since last October. He ambled round in a five-under 67, which equalled the best of the day and clambered his way towards the fringes of the top 10.

"It was different," said Clarke, as he mulled over his 10th-tee start. "It's just because we've never done it in an Open Championship. When I was told about the two-tee start I used a bit of foul language and called the person a liar. But they had to do it. It looked like the perfect call."

Clarke's Open victory in 2011 was the first of three by golf's 40-somethings. The young guns have taken control this week, of course, but Clarke is coasting along. The weight loss has taken some getting used to.

"When you have 50 or 60 pounds sitting in front of your gut, you're going to swing a lot slower through the ball," he said. "It's taken me a bit of time to adjust my timing."

When the Open was last held here in 2006, Clarke left early with an 82, his highest score in 23 appearances in the championship. It was understandable. His cancer-stricken wife was weeks from death.

Eight years on, Clarke is ­galvanised. His rousing round yesterday came alive around the turn and, having birdied 17 and 18 - his eighth and ninth - the Ryder Cup stalwart gained more at the first and second. A three-putt bogey on the third was the one blemish before a birdie putt of 40ft on the next, and a birdie on the fifth, kept him bounding along.

In days gone by Clarke may have refreshed himself with a few post-round gargles of Guinness. He's a changed man, though. "It's not quite a Jane Fonda work out but I'll go to the gym and lift some weights," he said.

McIlroy, meanwhile, will carry that weight of expectation today.