Rory McIlroy in action during the first round of the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on Thursday. - EPA
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - World number one Adam Scott was happy to keep championship leader Rory McIlroy in his sights as the Australian opened up with a four-under 68 in the British Open first round on Thursday.
Most of the day's better scores came in the calmer early conditions and Scott was one of the few to make a late run at the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.
"It was tougher this afternoon," he told reporters at Royal Liverpool. "The wind kicked up a bit and the back nine played very tough coming back.
"To keep pace with Rory is important. He has the potential to really put his foot down."
McIlroy's two previous major victories, in the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 U.S. PGA Championship, were both by runaway margins.
"I've seen him shoot lots of low rounds and there's nothing stopping him from doing that tomorrow either. I don't want him running away...he wins majors by eight shots," added Scott.
The genial Australian is looking to make it third time lucky in golf's oldest major after his agonising second-place finish at Lytham in 2012 and a tie for third spot at Muirfield this time last year.
"This has been a big focus for everyone in my crew this year," said Scott. "We've had our minds on the other majors obviously but to win the Claret Jug is a huge thing."
The 2013 U.S. Masters champion charged to the turn in 31 with an eagle and two birdies before mixing two birdies with two bogeys coming home.
"The weather is going to be the thing that separates this field," Scott added. "It seems pretty bunched at the moment, lots of scores under par.
"I'll just be grinding the next two days. If I keep swinging well I think I'll give myself enough chances to be up there."
Scott's fellow countryman Bryden Macpherson suffered the embarrassment of plunging to an 18-over 90.
"Tell him to have a couple of beers, that's all he can do," said the world number one.
"I feel for him but he'll bounce back hopefully. We've all had shockers at a major before. I have."
(Editing by Toby Davis)