Earlier in the week, Lee Westwood described the Royal Lytham course as "fair but tough," a testing track that would penalize poor drives with the nastiest of pot bunkers and the thickest of rough but would yield red numbers to those who found the short grass (from ESPN STAR).
Well, on Thursday morning, Lytham proved exceedingly fair...and about as difficult as last week's John Deere Classic.
The wind and poor weather that characterize links golf was completely absent for those out early on Day One of the Open, and they took advantage.
16 players finished with rounds under par, and Adam Scott was the man who led the way. The Aussie who, despite his recent good play, impressive ball-striking (a perfect trait at Lytham) and world-class ability, was somehow overlooked coming into this week. But, he tore Lytham apart on Thursday.
Scott started slowly with a bogey on three, but then displayed his usual grace from tee to green and his recently found stroke with the long putter (no matter how uncomfortable it may look). Eight birdies over the next 13 holes followed, and when he reached the 17th tee, he was seven-under-par for the round and one birdie shy of that elusive major championship round of 62.
Scott admitted in his post-round interview that he started thinking about the number at that point, and he did bogey 18 after a poor drive into gnarly rough, posting a six-under-par 64 instead.
But, it was a brilliant round of golf from a man who is now (very early on, mind you) in great position to capture his long-awaited first major title.
As for the others on the leader board, the biggest name in golf produced the most excitement early on.
Tiger Woods, who missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago, made it clear from the start that his game was in pristine form.
The World No. 4 opened with a crisp five-iron to 10 feet and an ensuing birdie at the first, and he kept on rolling. A perfectly judged 20-footer dropped in the cup for birdie on four, and on the extremely difficult par-four sixth, Woods made it simple: Fairway, green and another 20-footer in the dead center for a birdie.
When Woods put his eagle chip on the seventh within a foot of the cup, he was four-under-par and at the top of the leader board.
Then, as suddenly as Woods stormed into the lead, he cooled off.
Seven straight pars ensued, and he had to hit a miraculous third shot from the thick rough on 15 just to escape with bogey. Three more pars to finish meant a three-under-par finish after such a hot start.
It was all in all a good opening round for Woods, but it could've been a whole lot better. The perfect pace he displayed on the greens in the early going gave way to a putting stroke that left putt after putt short and opportunity after opportunity lost.
His ball-striking was a culprit as well though. Woods did hit 10 of his last 11 greens, but distance control was still an issue, and the putting opportunities he got weren't exactly fantastic.
He was also ultra-conservative off the tee, hitting just one driver and no more than two or three woods the entire round. These are issues that Woods needs to work out if he wants to get back to the form he showed over the first seven holes.
As for the others, there was one huge surprise on Day One.
That came in the form of Paul Lawrie who, despite playing well this year, was not expected to make any noise this week.
However, the 1999 Open champion summoned all the magic he could Thursday. He chipped in twice for birdie in his first five holes, and when he made a 30-footer from just off the green for par on six, he had put together a four-hole stretch needing just one-putt.
Lawrie was three-under par, and he dug even deeper. He bogeyed eight but made three more birdies over his final five holes to finish five-under and one off of Scott's lead.
As for big names on the leader board, there were plenty others besides Scott and Woods.
Zach Johnson, coming off a win at that low-scoring John Deere Classic event, continued his birdie hunt Thursday at Lytham. The Iowan had seven birdies in an opening-round five-under-par 65 that left him one off of Scott's lead.
Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell matched Woods' three-under-par 67, as did Bubba Watson, who showed impressive restraint in using irons numerous times off the tee and enough patience to allow him to get through the rough patch in his round (during the middle of the back-nine) relatively unscathed.
Among the disappointments were Dustin Johnson (73), Justin Rose (74) and especially Lee Westwood, who birdied his first two holes and proceeded to lose five strokes to par to finish at 73.
That's all the big news early in Round 1. The afternoon groups have just teed off, and with big names like McIlroy, Donald and Mickelson just starting their rounds, much is still to happen on Day One.
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