| PostIndependent.com

Sanders, Lindsay shine, Davis hurt at Broncos camp opener

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Emmanuel Sanders and Phillip Lindsay provided the good vibes at Vic Fangio’s first training camp practice in Denver before linebacker Todd Davis was carted off with a right lower leg injury in the closing minutes Thursday.

Davis was taken for an MRI. He was injured during a team drill with about 5 minutes left in practice and was carted off the field, although he walked into the building under his own power.

Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb said after practice that Davis is a “huge part of the defense.”

“Todd, I feel like he’s one of the most vocal leaders on this team — not just the defense,” Chubb said. “He’s one of those guys that sometimes last year in the games, I’d be like, ‘Hey, Todd, what I got right here?’ He just always knows what he’s doing. He’s always reliable. He’s always making the right calls.”

Sanders (Achilles tendon) and Lindsay (wrist surgery) returned to action for the first time since they got hurt last December.

“It’s good to see those guys out there,” said new quarterback Joe Flacco. “Those guys have so much energy. I mean, Phillip, he’s like one of my kids. I don’t know where he gets all the energy but he has it 24/7. … Emmanuel, I mean the way I’ve seen him work this whole offseason, he’s looked incredible.”

Fangio said he’ll slowly add to Sanders’ workload and that Lindsay has no limitations.

At one point, general manager John Elway huddled with Flacco, whom he acquired in a trade with Baltimore, and rookie QB Drew Lock, who signed a four-year, deal worth about $7 million on the eve of camp .

Flacco is the starter and Lock is vying to serve as his backup.

“I grew up watching John Elway,” Flacco said. “While we’re kind of colleagues now and we’re sharing the same field, there’s still a little bit of that kid in you that (thinks), ‘Man, John Elway’s standing right next to me.’ So, you try to act as normal as possible and just shoot the breeze. John’s ‘The Man’ around here. Hopefully there’s room for a couple more people.”

Notes: Although it was a blistering hot day, Fangio shrugged it off, saying, “The heat wasn’t bad. You’ve got to remember, I spent nine years in New Orleans, some time in South Carolina and Houston. They pray for a day like this.”

British Open, back at Royal Portrush, puts on quite a show

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — An emotional opening shot by Darren Clarke. A shocking one by Rory McIlroy.

Tiger Woods had his worst score to start a British Open. Brooks Koepka quickly got into contention again.

Emiliano Grillo made a 1. David Duval made a 14.

The Open returned to Royal Portrush after a 68-year absence and made up for lost time with an unusual amount of theater Thursday. When more than 15 hours of golf before a robust, sellout crowd finally ended, J.B. Holmes was atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time in 11 years.

Even that might have been fitting. The big hitter from a small town in Kentucky had his first taste of links golf at Royal Portrush during a college trip, and he recalled how the caddies kept giving him the wrong lines off the tee because they had never seen anyone hit it that far.

Holmes drove the downwind 374-yard fifth hole to 12 feet for a two-putt birdie, and he ended with a 5-iron into the wind to 15 feet for a final birdie and a 5-under 66.

“You just have to accept the conditions over here and not get too greedy,” Holmes said.

He had a one-shot lead over Shane Lowry of Ireland, who didn’t have the level of expectations or the connection to Royal Portrush like McIlroy, Clarke or native son Graeme McDowell, all of whom grew up in Northern Ireland and never imagined golf’s oldest championship returning to their tiny country.

“I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys,” Lowry said.

That wasn’t the case for McIlroy.

He was the betting favorite who as a 16-year-old stunned Irish golf with a 61 to set the course record at Royal Portrush in the North of Ireland Amateur. The throaty cheers went silent when his tee shot went left and out of bounds. He went into a bush and had to take a penalty to take it out, and he walked off the first green with a quadruple-bogey 8. McIlroy finished with a triple bogey for a 79.

“I’m going to go back and see my family, see my friends, and hopefully they don’t think any less of me after a performance like that today,” McIlroy said. “And I’ll dust myself off and come back out tomorrow and try to do better.”

Woods didn’t seem quite as optimistic.

That magical Masters victory in April is quickly turning into a memory as Woods struggles to find the balance between playing and making sure his back holds up. He has played only 10 rounds since Augusta National, and this was one to forget. Woods three-putted for bogey on No. 5, bladed a chip on No. 6 for a double bogey and stretched his arms in mock triumph when he finally made a birdie — his only birdie — on No. 15.

He ended with another bogey for a 78, matching his second-worst score in a major.

“Playing at this elite level is a completely different deal,” Woods said. “You’ve got to be spot on. These guys are too good. There are too many guys that are playing well and I’m just not one of them.”

The Dunluce Links held up beautifully in such lush conditions, and so did the reputation of Northern Ireland’s ever-changing coastal weather. There was a blue sky and dark clouds, a strong breeze and a stiff wind, shadows and showers, all within an hour’s time.

“I took on and put off my rain gear probably at least nine times in nine holes,” Matt Kuchar said.

Even so, the scoring was good, without anyone being great.

The large group at 68 included Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors and looked very much capable of adding the third leg of the Grand Slam. Koepka was tied for the lead at one point until he made his lone bogey on the 17th hole. He has been runner-up twice and won the PGA Championship this year. He started out the final major in a tie for third after the first round.

As usual, Koepka keeps it simple, and it helps to have Ricky Elliott as his caddie. Elliott grew up at Portrush and knows the course as well as anyone.

“It’s easy when he’s just standing on the tee telling you to hit it in this spot and I just listen to him,” Koepka said. “I don’t have to think much. I don’t have to do anything. I figure out where the miss is and where I’m trying to put it and then go from there.”

Jon Rahm, a two-time Irish Open winner at nearby Portstewart and in the south at Lahinch two weeks ago, joined Holmes and Webb Simpson as the only players to reach 5 under at any point during the day. The Spaniard was particularly sharp from around the greens, controlling chips and putts beautifully. He ran out of luck late, however, missing a 5-foot par putt on the 16th and dropping another shot on the 18th. Even so, 68 was his best score in his fourth British Open.

Duval had hit his worst score in any tournament — 91 — mainly from the jolt of a bad swing on a tough hole, compounded by an oversight. He never found two of his own tee shots at the par-5 seventh, hit the wrong ball in the process and with all the penalty shots had a 14, the second-highest score in 159 years of the British Open.

“Just one of those God-awful nightmare scenarios that happened today,” Duval said. “And I happened to be on the end of it.”

Forty-one players broke par, and 15 of them were within three shots of the lead.

Clarke turned and applauded the grandstand that filled up before his opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m., and he treated everyone else to three birdies through five holes. He wound up with a 71. McDowell wiped a tear from his eye before he teed off, and he was one shot off the early lead until a triple bogey at the last hole sent him to a 73.

McIlroy’s only hope was to treat the crowd to four days, a daunting task when only five players in the 156-man field posted a worse score.

He said he wasn’t the center of attention, and he was right. That belonged to Royal Portrush and the people who filled the links to see championship golf. They were treated to quite the show.

Lowry sets early target as McIlroy opens with 79 at Portrush

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Shane Lowry of Ireland didn’t have the level of expectations or the connection to Royal Portrush like Rory McIlroy.

All he had was the lead Thursday at the British Open.

Lowry found a renewed confidence on the eve of the final major of the year and delivered a 4-under 67 in ever-changing weather to set the early target at the first British Open in Northern Ireland in 51 years.

“I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys,” Lowry said.

That wasn’t the case for McIlroy, which made his start, his finish and his score — 79 — all the more shocking.

McIlroy, the betting favorite who once shot 61 at Royal Portrush as a 16-year-old amateur, pulled his opening tee shot out of bounds and had to take another penalty shot to get his ball out of a bush in making a quadruple-bogey 8. He ended his forgettable day by making a double bogey when he carelessly missed a tap-in, and finishing with a triple bogey. The 79 matched his worst start in the British Open.

The objective now is to find a way to stick around all four days.

“I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn’t think about winning at this point,” McIlroy said.

Lowry, who won the Irish Open as an amateur 10 years ago, had a one-shot lead over a group that ranged from major champions Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson to Bob MacIntyre, the 22-year-old Scot making his major championship debut.

McIlroy certainly wasn’t alone in his frustration.

Graeme McDowell, born and raised in Portrush, was one shot out of the lead until he took a three-putt bogey and lost his tee shot on the 18th for a triple bogey, sending him to a 73.

No one suffered quite like former British Open champion David Duval, who plays only sparingly because of duties with American television. Duval was going along nicely with two quick birdies until a quadruple-bogey 8 on the fifth hole. And then it all came undone on the par-5 seventh when he lost his tee shot in the high grass, hit a provisional tee shot and then mistakenly played the wrong ball and had to start the hole over with six penalty shots.

It added to 13, and with more trouble the rest of the way, he finished with a 90. Only two other players had a higher score than 13 in the British Open. The record belongs to Herman Tissie, who made a 15 on the short “Postage Stamp” par 3 at Royal Troon in 1950.

Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson were among the late starters.

Broncos out to forge new identity following owner’s death

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Ever since soon-to-be Hall of Famer Pat Bowlen stepped down from his daily duties as owner of the Denver Broncos, team president and CEO Joe Ellis ran the team in a “What would Pat do?” sort of way.

With Bowlen’s death last month, that’s no longer the case.

Ellis told The Associated Press that while the team will always honor Bowlen’s memory, it’s time for the Broncos to establish a new identity.

“I got to thinking about that,” Ellis said Thursday from the sideline as the Broncos became the first NFL team to open training camp . “I think it’s a fair question at this point because he’s no longer with us. He was with us (the last five years) even though he was not out here. I got to go see him and I always sort of felt his presence. And I think Pat would want us to move on from him a little bit, you know? I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that totally because of what he’s provided all of us …

“But it’s time to buckle up your chin strap here and do things the Broncos way,” Ellis said. “Yeah, we want to make Pat proud. We’re going to honor him. It’s a subtle honoring with the decal on the helmet and he’ll always be in the back of my mind. But you know what, we have to act independently now in some fashion. I hope you can make sense of this.”

Bowlen died June 13 at age 75, nine weeks shy of his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Alzheimer’s forced him to step away five years earlier, Bowlen entrusted Ellis to operate the team with full authority and represent the Broncos in league matters until one of his seven children was deemed ready to take over. Ellis drew on his working relationship with the notoriously publicity-shy Bowlen that spanned nearly three decades to continue operating the team as Bowlen would have during those five years.

Ellis said he doesn’t want to look back anymore.

“There’s been so much talk about Pat and his excellence and everything that he’s done and it’s all well-deserved and it’s well-acknowledged — he’s going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Ellis said. “But I know if he were here and he were advising me, he’d say, ‘Listen, you know, your job is to get everybody in the organization to pull together and do this for our fans and do this for themselves and each other, players, coaches. And do what I always wanted to do and not make it about me, make it about them, make it about yourselves, make it about the fans. Make it about winning. Let’s focus on that. Let’s not focus on me anymore.’”

Ellis noted the Broncos have to change the way they do things to reverse their recent slide that includes back-to-back double-digit losses for the first time since the 1960s.

Even with those 5-11 and 6-10 seasons, the Broncos have as many Super Bowl appearances — seven — as losing seasons during Bowlen’s ownership that began in 1984.

“We need to establish our own identity,” Ellis said. “So much of our identity the past several years has been based on the success of Pat in some ways, right? And people talk about the Pat Bowlen era. Even if a child were to take over, it’s not the Pat Bowlen era anymore. So, this is kind of in some ways this is Year 1 of establishing a different identity as an organization. Never forgetting everything that was Pat.

“No one’s ever going to forget what he did. We’ll remember him. We’ve got the decal on the back. His name is on that field house. His father’s name is on this facility’s front here at UC Health Center. So, he will continue to be honored and remembered, but I do know that he would want us to put our own stamp on this program. I just know that in my heart.”

Ellis said he’ll meet with Brittany Bowlen, who is hoping to take over the franchise, next week about returning to the team to gain more front office experience. She’s currently working for global consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Denver. Ellis said her role would be generally focused on the business side.

“She’s going to come here and work hard. She’s got to prove herself,” Ellis said. “There’s more pressure on her than any other employee. And then we’ll see. If that works out, then there’s room for growth. Pat always said, ‘Listen, I’d love to be able to keep it in the family if I can and have a child run it, but if that’s not the case, then the team will be sold.’ And so we’re not there to assign anybody that role yet.”

Dennis quits Tour in bizarre way, Yates wins in Pyrenees

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France — In 116 years of racing at the Tour de France, riders have done all sorts of bizarre things, from jumping on trains to fighting with fans at mountain stops.

Rarely have they just vanished in the middle of a stage like Rohan Dennis did on Thursday during the first Pyrenean stage.

For a couple of hours on an otherwise uneventful day in the mountains, nobody was able to say where the time trial world champion had gone. His Bahrain-Merida team even sent an alarming message out on social networks, saying all it cared about was “the welfare” of Dennis after Tour organizers announced he had pulled out of the race.

The Australian ultimately resurfaced at the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, where British rider Simon Yates, the reigning Spanish Vuelta champion, posted his first stage win after a long breakaway that did not shuffle the overall standings.

Dennis was spotted near the Bahrain-Merida team bus after the stage, but did not make any comment about his decision to pull out.

“We are also confused,” Bahrain-Merida team director Gorazd Stangelj said. “It was his decision today to stop at the feed zone. We tried to speak with him, he said ‘I just don’t want to talk,’ and abandoned the race.”

Dennis quit with about 80 kilometers left before the two big climbs in Stage 12, prompting Bahrain-Merida to open an investigation. According to the French TV station broadcasting the race, Dennis had an argument with officials in the team car.

Stangelj said Dennis’ condition was good enough to perform, adding he was not aware of any kind of argument that could have triggered the rider’s decision.

Dennis’s withdrawal was even more surprising as it came a day before Friday’s short time trial in Pau, where he would have been an obvious favorite alongside defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas given his pedigree in the race against the clock.

Stangelj said he was not aware of any complaint from Denis in regards with his time trial equipment and also dismissed suppositions that Dennis could have been frustrated with his role in the team. Bahrain-Merida’s main goal at the Tour this year was to fulfill former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali’s ambition to fight for a podium finish.

“I never asked him to bring the water bottles in the race,” Stangelj said. “Actually, I even told him yesterday and today that he should save energy for the time trial.”

When asked if Dennis had been difficult to work with before, Stangelj said “it’s difficult to answer this question.”

“But I never have hard discussions with him,” he insisted. “We always found a solution when it was needed.”

Stangelj explained that after Dennis stopped at the feed zone, he was not immediately able to reach out to him because he had already passed that point on the route and could not turn back with his car. He finally managed to get his rider on the phone after another car from the team arrived next to him.

Dennis’ extraordinary withdrawal was the talk of the day but did not eclipse Yates’ maiden win at the Tour.

The British rider launched a counterattack behind a group of fugitives in a technical downhill and was joined at the front by Gregor Muhlberger and Pello Bilbao. The trio worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200 meters from the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Yates launched the sprint, was first into the last turn and held off Bilbao for the victory.

“I wasn’t very confident in beating them,” said Yates. “I didn’t know how fast these two riders were but my sport director told me to take the last corner in first position and I’m glad it worked out well. To have a stage at all three Grand Tours makes me very proud.”

Yates is working in support of his brother Adam at the three-week race and had kept a low profile until now. He made his move in the Peyresourde downhill, reaching a maximum speed of 94.3 kph (58.6 mph). He was as impressive in the day’s final ascent, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, and was joined at the front by Muhlberger before Bilbao jumped across to them on the descent to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

“This was probably a unique opportunity for me,” Yates said. “My main goal is to help Adam in the mountains and we thought that wouldn’t be needed today, that’s why I took the breakaway.”

As the Tour hit high mountains with two first-category climbs, the main favorites closely watched each other and did not attack, saving strength for the super hard days still to come. The main pack of contenders crossed the finish line 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind the winner, with no major change in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the race leader’s yellow jersey ahead of Friday’s time trial in Pau, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas.

Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

Solano’s go-ahead homer keys Giants 11-8 win over Rockies

DENVER — On a day when two of the San Francisco Giants’ core players were getting a well-deserved rest, their replacements came through in a big way.

Donovan Solano had four hits, including a tie-breaking home run, Stephen Vogt homered and doubled, and San Francisco beat the Colorado Rockies 11-8 on Wednesday to complete a four-game series sweep, their first at Colorado in nearly eight years.

“Your bench play is such a critical role in your season,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Playing a day game after a night game that followed a doubleheader on Monday, Bochy started Solano in place of Brandon Crawford and Vogt started at catcher in place of Buster Posey.

“Those are two guys there that can’t be replaced, but for us to go in there on a tough day game, on a hot day, and to be able to contribute the way we did, when those two guys are on the bench, that’s our job,” Vogt said. “That’s why we’re here, to give those guys a break and do everything we can to help this team win when it’s our turn to play.”

Solano mirrored Vogt’s sentiments.

“It’s gratifying to have a great day, especially when you’re giving a player like Brandon Crawford a day off,” Solano said through an interpreter. “But at the same time, that’s what you want to do when you get an opportunity to play, you want to show that you belong.”

Pablo Sandoval sparked a three-run first inning with a two-run double and Brandon Belt had an RBI single among his three hits for the surging Giants, who have won five straight and 12 of their last 14. The run has tamped down, at least for now, talk about the Giants in decline and speculation that the team is preparing to trade way some of its stars to begin a rebuild.

“It’s a lot of fun when everybody wrote you off before the season started and even still, it’ how long is this going to last,” Vogt said. “But I can say the attitude in this room is, ‘Let’s win today.’ We feel good about this group. Who knows what’s going to happen over the next couple of weeks. That’s out of our control. All we can control is to keep doing what we’re doing.”

Trevor Story and Ryan McMahon homered for the Rockies, losers of four straight and 11 of their last 13.

San Francisco broke through for five runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Two of the three runs the Giants scored in the eighth were unearned after center fielder Garrett Hampson, who came on in the top of the third for injured David Dahl, failed to handle Joe Panik’s fly ball for an error. Dahl fouled a pitch off his left foot in the first inning and was removed in the second.

The Rockies got three runs in their final at-bat, including a two-out, two-run homer by Story. Mark Melancon relieved Andrew Suraez and got Nolan Arenado to fly out to center for the game’s final out and his first save of the season.

It was the first-four game sweep by the Giants in Colorado since Sept. 15-18, 2011.

“Not a lot of satisfaction here from the homestand,” Story said. “We are all trying to deal with this as best we can. This wasn’t our team. We are much better than the way we showed.”

Solano broke a 5-5 tie when he homered off Jon Gray (9-7) to start the Giants’ sixth.

The Giants jumped on Gray for three first-inning runs, two of them scoring on a double by Sandoval. Colorado went in front 4-3 on McMahon’s two-run homer off Shaun Anderson in the Rockies’ fourth, a short-lived lead that was erased by Vogt’s two-run drive off Gray in the fifth.

Story tripled to start the Rockies’ fifth and scored one out later on by a single by Arenado.

Anderson, in his first career start at Coors Field, went 4 1/3 innings and allowed five runs on eight hits.

Gray went 5 1/3 innings and allowed 11 hits and six runs. He walked three and struck out three.

Derek Holland (2-4) picked up the win with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.


Rockies: OF David Dahl left the game in third inning after fouling a pitch off the top of his left foot during his first-inning at bat. He is listed as day to day with a bruised left foot. Garrett Hampson replaced him in center field. … INF Brendan Rodgers was transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day IL a day after undergoing surgery to repair a Labral tear in his right shoulder. He is likely out for the rest of the season. … LHP Harrison Musgrave (left elbow flexor strain) was reinstated from the 60-day IL and optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque.


Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner (5-7, 3.86 ERA) is set to pitch Thursday night’s series opener in San Francisco against the New York Mets, the only NL team that has not put a loss on Bumgarner’s record.

Rockies: Following an off day, the Rockies open a season-long 10-game road with an interleague series against the New York Yankees that opens Friday night with LHP Kyle Freeland (2-6) slated to start the opener.

A long wait, but finally a Tour win for sprint prodigy Ewan

TOULOUSE, France — A bit more than a year ago, Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out of the Tour de France.

The Australian sprinter had to watch cycling’s biggest race on TV after finding out at the last minute that his Mitchelton-Scott team was placing all its bets on Adam Yates in the fight for the yellow jersey, and would leave Ewan at home.

A year later, Ewan earned his first Tour victory by edging a close sprint on Stage 11 in Toulouse on Wednesday.

“I was ready for the Tour three of four years ago, I always wanted to go straight to the top races,” said Ewan, whose daughter was born just before the race started. “I’ve been held back, I finally got my chance.”

Ewan switched teams to Lotto-Soudal this season to replace veteran German sprinter Andre Greipel, and the ambitious youngster was, at last, promoted to a team leader role this summer in France.

But the pressure was big on Ewan, a winner of 36 professional races — including stages at the Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia.

After coming close in previous stages with three third-place finishes and a runner-up spot, he finally delivered by edging one of the peloton’s fastest men. The 25-year-old Australian beat fellow sprinter Dylan Groenewegen by a tire’s width and was awarded the victory after photo finish. Elia Viviani placed third ahead of three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

Ewan perfectly timed his effort after Groenewegen launched his effort on the left side of the road. Ewan took the wheel of his Dutch rival and pipped him to the line.

“It was super hectic,” said Ewan, who has now completed wins at all three Grands Tours. “I ended up in Groenewegen’s wheel coming out of that corner. It’s a hard thing being with Dylan and I knew it was not going to be easy to beat him. I felt I should let him get a bit of a gap so I could sprint in his slipstream, and I could pass him quite quick. I’m happy that this time I was a few centimeters ahead of him.”

The win also made up for having to leave Australia just after the birth of his daughter Lily. He thanked his wife for letting him go and compete in France in such circumstances.

“She let me come here and leave my young baby in hospital,” Ewan said. “It’s the hardest thing I had to do, to come here to race and leave my daughter in hospital.”

With the race heading into the Pyrenees over the next four stages, the main favorites did not take any risks Wednesday and there were no significant changes in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe kept the yellow jersey, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas. Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

“I’ve prepared myself for attacks to take place, whether from the favorites or other riders who want to gain time,” Alaphilippe said.

The coming days could be crucial in determining the next Tour champion. Following Thursday’s stage and its two first-category climbs, Thomas — an excellent time-trial specialist — will have a chance to gain time on his rivals in the only individual race against the clock this year. Then it will be time for the grueling ascent of the Tourmalet —the first of three finishes over 2,000 meters this year — and a final Pyrenean stage totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

“There are five big days to come, but we are up for it,” Thomas said. “Obviously, we’d love to be closer to Alaphilippe, but we are ahead the traditional GC (general classification) guys. It’s hard to see how Alaphilippe will go, but Egan and I are in quite a good place. By the second rest day we will know more about who are our rivals.”

McIlroy knows this is not just another British Open

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — On the final day of practice for the final major of the year, Rory McIlroy ripped a shot out of the light rough and began walking toward the green when he stopped in the middle of the fairway for a quick interview with Sky Sports.

That’s normal for McIlroy at any British Open.

Fans stood six deep, creating a corridor as he walked to the third tee on Wednesday. The grandstand was full and the gallery framed the entire par 3, despite heavy clouds that began to darken with the promise of more rain at Royal Portrush.

No, this is not a normal British Open — certainly not for McIlroy no matter how hard he tries to convince himself as golf’s oldest championship returns to his native Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years.

“You’ve got the best players in the world here, and I don’t feel like I’m the center of attention,” McIlroy said at a news conference before a media gathering larger than it was for Tiger Woods.

He is not the only Ulsterman who tees off Thursday in pursuit of a claret jug.

Graeme McDowell was raised in Portrush and was a member of Rathmore Golf Club, which is owned by Royal Portrush and shares the same links along the North Atlantic. Darren Clarke forged his game as a junior at Royal Portrush and now calls it home.

McIlroy is different.

He is a four-time major champion and No. 3 in the world, and Royal Portrush is where he came of age in golf. It’s where his father brought him for his 10th birthday, when he met Clarke for the first time. It’s where he first delivered on his potential at 16 when he shot a course-record 61 in the North of Ireland Amateur.

“Portrush has been a very big — at least the golf club — part of my upbringing,” McIlroy said. “It’s sort of surreal that it’s here.”

Just another Open?

It was the first time in 159 years of the British Open that tickets had to be purchased in advance, including two practice rounds. That brings the attendance total for the week to 237,500, second only to the Old Course at St. Andrews.

“I can’t just put the blinkers on and pretend that’s not all going on,” McIlroy said. “One of my mantras this week is look around and smell the roses. This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general. And to be quite a big part of it is an honor and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself that this is bigger than me. And I think if you can look at the bigger picture, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off.

“I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things,” he said. “But at the same time, just having that perspective might make me relax a little bit more.”

A steady rain slowed the final day of practice, along with a stronger wind that gives this course its best defense.

McIlroy and Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, McDowell and others were among those who took in a rare, late afternoon round for being the eve of the Open.

Woods was a late afternoon arrival on the range, hoping to sharpen a swing in only his fourth tournament since he won the Masters. Before long, the rain returned.

“It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now,” Woods said Tuesday. “My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it. I still need to get the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now, especially with the weather coming in and winds are going to be changing.”

The R&A awarded Clarke the honor of starting off the British Open. Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy are in the early half of the draw; Woods, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson are among the late starters.

It promises to be quite a show.

“I’ve never seen the town look so great,” McDowell said. “Just the buzz from the people this week, it’s been amazing the last few days.”

Royal Portrush has two new holes — Nos. 7 and 8, land used from Rathmore’s Valley Links — since the last British Open in 1951, or even the Irish Open in 2012. McIlroy returned home the weekend before the Scottish Open to get a full day of preparation.

McIlroy, who lives in Florida now, hadn’t seen his mother in three months and wanted to have dinner, so he told her about 8 p.m., leaving enough time to properly get reacquainted with Royal Portrush for the Open.

And then he called her back and asked to move up the reservation. He finished early.

“It’s the same golf course,” he said. “I think I was making it a little bigger in my head than it needed to be. And I’ve played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it. No matter if there’s grandstands around or if there’s not, if there’s a lot of people or if there’s not, it’s the same golf course.”

Same, yes. But still very different.

Technology beating romanticism at Tour de France

ALBI, France — With all the technology stacked against them, the six breakaway riders at the Tour de France had no hope of making it to the finish without being caught.

Race directors were watching their every move on TV screens set up in their cars, and rival competitors riding behind were informed in instant time of the gap through earpieces. It was a day for a bunch sprint, and it could not be any different.

At the Tour, long gone are the days when bold riders would launch long-range attacks and foil the sprinters at the finish line. The sport has changed so much in the space of 20 years that, on the many long and flat stages peppering the thee-week racing program, breakaways have nearly no chance of succeeding.

“A stage victory in the style of Jacky Durand or Thierry Marie? It’s nearly impossible on Grands Tours, and even more at the Tour de France,” Arkea Samsic team manager Emmanuel Hubert told The Associated Press.

Hubert, a former pro rider, mentioned Durand and Marie, two riders who epitomized the idea of panache. In the 1980s and ‘90s, both were capable of launching long-range victorious rides that made them fan favorites.

Such long-haul trips still take place nowadays, but they are almost never rewarded.

Take the six who spent Monday at the front of the pack in the southwestern Aveyron region. If they had any hopes of reaching Albi ahead of the pack, they quickly found out their grand day out would not feature a happy ending.

There were four climbs on the day’s program, but the flat finale gave sprinters a golden opportunity to get a stage win. Tony Gallopin, Michael Schar, Natnael Berhane, Anthony Turgis, Mads Wurtz Schmidt and Odd Christian Eiking moved away from the pack soon after the start. With none of them a threat in the general classification, the peloton was happy to let them go.

But once their lead reached three minutes, the fugitives were kept on a tight leash, with sprinters’ teams speeding up the pace at the front of the pack to make sure they would not open a gap too difficult to bridge later in the stage.

A classic scenario then developed. Using all the data available to determine the right time to move, sprinters’ teams organized the chase about 50 kilometers from the finish to rein in the audacious group.

“There is so much at stake for the sprinters’ team,” Cofidis manager Alain Deloeil told the AP. “For them it’s nearly a professional mistake if, on a flat stage, they don’t bring back the breakaway. They need to set up a sprint for their fast man.”

These scenarios, which also affect racing in the mountains, are a real problem for organizers who need to maintain the excitement over a three-week period. At a closed-door meeting before the race started, Tour director Christian Prudhomme urged riders to be more audacious in their strategies after a somewhat boring start to the race last year.

Deloeil and Prudhomme are nostalgic for an era when ear pieces and power meters were words still to be invented. They believe riders don’t use their instinct anymore, with their eyes glued to screens determining whether they should attack or chase down fugitives.

Team Ineos, the former Team Sky, often relies on data from power meters — the small devices fitted to riders’ bikes measuring their power output — when tackling climbs. It’s a strategy that produced five Tour victories with three different riders since 2012.

Prudhomme would like to see restrictions on power meters.

“Riders should not have permanent access to their data,” Prudhomme told the AP. “In days gone by, Fausto Coppi used to attack Gino Bartali when he noticed the little blue vein coming out on his rival’s leg. It was a sign that Bartali was getting tired. And Bernard Hinault waited until Joop Zoetemelk’s leg moved aside, because it meant he was tired. And that was the moment Bernard chose to attack.”

According to Prudhomme, banning power meters would add a refreshing dose of romanticism to a sport heavily relying on data.

“If riders could not read their power meters, there would be more emotions,” he said. “But obviously the biggest teams don’t want that.”

Stephane Rossetto, a Tour rookie who twice tried his luck over the past 10 days in long unsuccessful breakaways, said many competitors are too conservative in their approach.

“That’s modern cycling, and we need to adapt,” the 32-year-old said. “Many riders are just looking at their power meter and don’t go beyond a certain limit. And with ear pieces, we get the gaps in real time. There is not much room for surprise. Me, I never look at my power meter.”

Luke Rowe, a teammate of defending champion Geraint Thomas at Ineos, hit back at Prudhomme’s remarks.

“He is living in the Stone Age with comments like that,” Rowe said. “I can tell you, from a guy who spends a lot of time riding on the front, you don’t ride on power. You ride on feel, you ride on who is in the break, how far ahead they are, on wind direction, terrain. You take all these factors into consideration to see how you are going to ride. You don’t stare at power meters.”

Boosting Rowe’s case, it was the good positioning of Ineos riders at the front of the pack — and not technology — that allowed them to gain around 100 seconds on three dangerous rivals when crosswinds played havoc in the finale of Monday stage.

Woods trying to get up to speed for final major of year

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Tiger Woods was on the practice range when the gates at the British Open opened Tuesday, and before long he was on the tee and ready to go. He just didn’t go for very long.

Woods played a full round at Royal Portrush when he arrived Sunday morning, and then again on Monday. For his third day of getting to know a links course that hasn’t hosted the British Open in 68 years, Woods made it down No. 1 and then skipped over to the 13th and played the homestretch.

It would be simple to assume it was fatigue. After all, Woods hasn’t competed since June 16 at the U.S. Open, and he has only 10 rounds under his belt since his victory in the Masters for his 15th career major.

In this case, no one wants to overdo it at a major, so this was nothing out of the ordinary.

Then again, very little is ordinary with golf’s biggest star these days.

When asked if there was anything physically bothering him outside the norm, Woods smiled and said, “Anything outside the norm.” The laughter made it hard to hear him say, “No.”

His chances at the British Open are nearly as mysterious as Royal Portrush.

Even at age 43, with four knee surgeries and, more recently, more back surgeries behind him, he showed how capable he was against a young generation of talent by winning at Augusta National with smart, strategic golf to overcome a two-shot deficit and win a fifth green jacket.

It’s everything since then that speaks to his outlook on golf.

He took a month off to recover emotionally and physically from his taxing win at the Masters, only to miss the cut at the PGA Championship. He played the Memorial and then the U.S. Open, and then he was off to Thailand for a family holiday before returning home to Florida. At this rate, he’ll play no more than 14 times in the PGA Tour season, though he still has a few events overseas at the end of the year.

This is the new norm.

Woods played plenty last year trying to get back inside the top 50 in the world — he now is up to No. 5 — to become eligible for World Golf Championships he once took for granted. It led to more golf than he wanted to play.

“So this year I made a conscious effort to cut back on my schedule to make sure that I don’t play too much,” he said. “I want to play here as long as I possibly can. And you have to understand, if I play a lot, I won’t be out here that long.”

The trick now is to figure out how much he needs to compete in tournaments to be ready, and listening to his body.

And still to be determined is what kind of weather — the wind, in particular — Woods and the rest of the players will see. The wind has not been the prevailing direction for two days of practice, and it hasn’t been much wind at all.

The forecast? Take a pick.

One bulletin provided by the R&A said the tournament days would feature “changeable conditions continuing with showers or longer spells of rain interspersed with drier and brighter interludes.” It concluded by saying, “Confidence low in any details at this stage.”

That was about as clear as picking who stands the best chance at Royal Portrush.

Woods sees it as other links courses, where power can be equalized by control. Darren Clarke, who forged his game on these links as a junior, felt the same way. He even pointed to a 6-foot wide swath of fairway on a slope at the 17th that would send the ball down toward the green. Now that’s control.

U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland sees it differently.

“The last couple of days, power has been a huge deal,” Woodland said. “I’ve hit a lot of drivers.”

He played with Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson on Monday — it would be exaggerating to say Woodland can hit it longer than their drives combined, but not much — and he found a “huge advantage” by being able to send it a long way in the air.

Woods used as references Greg Norman and Tom Watson, two former British Open champions who nearly won in their 50s because length is not as paramount at Augusta National or the other two U.S. majors.

Norman was 53 (and still on his honeymoon with ex-wife Chris Evert) when he had the 54-hole lead at Royal Birkdale in 2008. A year later, a 59-year-old Watson was an 8-foot putt away from winning at Turnberry. He lost in a playoff.

Woods isn’t that old. There was some speculation that cool air — at Bethpage Black in May, at Pebble Beach any time of the year — at the previous two majors didn’t help his cause as he tries to keep his back loose.

“It’s just part of, unfortunately, dealing with the procedures I’ve had, and being a little bit older,” Woods said. “It just doesn’t move quite as fast when it’s a little bit cooler. But the great thing is playing in an Open Championship, you can do it. Look what Tom did at Turnberry, what Greg did at Birkdale. The golf course is fast enough. You just have to navigate the bunkers and navigate around the golf course.”