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Thomas opens with 62 to lead Scottish Open by 1 with McIlroy 3 shots behind

NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — (AP) — Justin Thomas dressed in tartan-patterned trousers and played the part Thursday in the Scottish Open with an 8-under 62, his lowest opening round on the PGA Tour since his 59 in the Sony Open seven years ago.

Rory McIlroy was three shots behind with a 65 that he hopes will be a big step toward moving on from his U.S. Open collapse last month.

Thomas, who had a one-shot lead over Sungjae Im, was playing so well in the more benign afternoon conditions that he even thought about joining Jim Furyk with another sub-60 round. That was his mistake.

“I thought the par was 71, and then I looked up and saw even-par 70 and was like, ‘Oh, I just need a couple of more (birdies) and I can shoot 59.’ And then shockingly, I made five pars in a row,” the American said.

Thomas ran off four straight birdies on the front nine of The Renaissance Club — three of them from 6 feet or closer — birdied the par-5 10th with a simple up-and-down and holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the 12th.

On the outward portion of the course along the Firth of Forth, he drilled his approach to 2 feet for birdie on the 13th to reach 8-under par. And then the putts stopped falling, including a chance from just inside 10 feet on the 15th. On the par-5 16th, he went into the rough off the tee, had a 3-wood squirt right into the really deep stuff and did well to make par.

Thomas is capable of this kind of golf — it was his 54th time he made at least eight birdies in a round — but they have been few and far between lately. He still is searching for his first win since the PGA Championship two years ago at Southern Hills.

Im had nine birdies, with bogeys at the start and toward the end, for his 63.

Swedish star Ludvig Aberg also overcame a pair of bogeys and was in a large group at 64 that included Maximilian Kieffer of Germany, Haotong Li of China, Thomas Detry of Belgium and American Justin Lower. They all have another goal they are chasing — sticking around Scotland for another week. The leading three players not already eligible get into the British Open.

The Renaissance Club is links-styled, thought not proper links turf that players will find next week at Royal Troon. It at least gets them experience of the effect of wind and the ball reacting on the ground.

For McIlroy, it was simply getting back to work.

McIlroy took a week away from his golf clubs after the U.S. Open, where he missed two short putts over the final three holes and finished one shot behind Bryson DeChambeau at Pinehurst No. 2.

He is trying to look at the big picture. He says the U.S. Open was a great week except for the closing four holes. McIlroy talked about his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship and good finishes at three other tournaments.

“I'm not going to let three or four holes cloud my judgment in terms of how good I’m playing,” he said. "I knew to play the golf that I did the whole way through June ... it wasn’t just the U.S. Open. I played well at the Canadian Open and at Memorial before that even, and PGA and Quail Hollow. My game has been in good shape and it was in good shape coming in here.

“It’s just a matter of going out there and focusing on the task at hand and not letting your mind wander too much,” he said. “I felt like I did a good job of that today.”

It helps to chip in for eagle from behind the green on the par-5 third hole, which eased some of the disappointment of missed birdie chances in the middle of his second nine. McIlroy is the defending champion, with one eye on winning again and another on Royal Troon.

This tournament is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and the European tour, and is a popular spot ahead of the final major of the year, but not for everyone. Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in golf, and Patrick Cantlay were among those to sit this one out.

The average score was 68.7 with a light wind in the morning and slightly less in the afternoon. Twenty-two players were at 65 or lower, and 98 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris were not among them, both at 71 that felt much worse.

“This is as easy as you're going to get a links golf course weather-wise and conditions,” Thomas said. “When you drive it well like I did for the most part today, you have a lot of short clubs. And I see nothing but pin.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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