Tiger Woods in the hunt after first round of British Open

The Old Course was defenseless, and no one took advantage of it more than Rory McIlroy.

The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland tied the major championship record Thursday by shooting a 9-under-par 63 in the opening round of the British Open.

One of golf's brightest prospects, McIlroy started his romp with an eagle at the 352-yard ninth, where he drove the green and rolled in the putt. He then made six birdies on the homeward holes for a 30 that tied the tournament's back-nine record.

McIlroy became the eighth player to go so low at the British Open, equaling a mark from 17 years ago by Payne Stewart at Royal St. George. Overall, just 22 players have shot 63 in one of the four major tournaments, including Greg Norman and Vijay Singh, who each did it twice.

The last to do it: Tiger Woods at the 2007 PGA Championship. The world's No. 1 player wasn't as sharp at this major, but a 67 put him in the thick of things.

Woods and everyone else were chasing McIlroy, who missed the cut at the year's first two majors but got his first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow.

"I didn't get off to a flying start," McIlroy said. "The eagle on 9 really sort of turned things around for me, and I just got going from there."

McIlroy had a chance to claim the record all to himself. A brilliant approach at No. 17, the famed "Road Hole," left him with a 5-footer for birdie. But the putt slid wide of the cup, and McIlroy rolled back his head in disappointment after tapping in the par, knowing he had squandered a chance at a historic score.

While no one ever expects to shoot 63 in a major, it was certainly a day for low numbers.

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa took a run at McIlroy until he failed to get up-and-down at 17, taking his only bogey on the way to a 65. John Daly matched the best score of his Open career with a 66, a number equaled by four others.

The birthplace of golf played like a muni for the morning starters, with hardly any wind blowing in off St. Andrews Bay and only a sprinkling of rain.

"The old lady had no clothes on today," said 60-year-old Tom Watson, who opened with a 73 and was one of the few early starters who failed to break par.

Winds stiffened as the day went on, making it more difficult for afternoon players like Phil Mickelson, who took a double-bogey 6 at No. 13. He finally made his first birdie at 18, but a 73 left him more concerned about making the cut than going for the lead.

Clearly miffed at his performance, Lefty blew off interview requests.

Woods showed this week might be his first win since being tarnished by a sex scandal.

His only stumble also came at the Road Hole, where he took a bogey.

Woods romped to dominating wins in 2000 and 2005; a third straight would give him 15 majors titles, three shy of Jack Nicklaus' career record.

"It's getting better every week," Woods said. "It's building."

Daly knows a thing or two about problems away from golf, from failed marriages and financial woes to trouble with alcohol and weight.

He underwent surgery to deal with his ballooning waistline and has lost nearly 100 pounds. But his ranking remained 455th in the world.

Strolling the course with a cigarette and a diet soda, Daly put up his best score since a 66 at Royal St. George in 1993. It could have been better - four putts lipped out or caught the edge of the cup.

"It's a golf course, I don't know, I just love it," Daly said. "Just a special, special place."