If you were up before dawn to watch the early tee times at the 2012 Open Championship this morning, you might have thought you were on the wrong channel as the season's third major began.
The weather forecast was off a bit. There was no rain. There was no wind.
Conditions at Royal Lytham & St Annes were unusually docile, and Adam Scott took full advantage, firing a 6-under-par 64 to take the early lead. Scott holds a one-shot edge over three other competitors—Zach Johnson, Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts—who were nearly as impressive with matching 5-under-par 65s.
At one point, Scott lowered his score to 7-under par, but after hitting his tee shot into the left rough at the final hole, he made a disappointing bogey. It was nevertheless his best round in a major championship.
Johnson carried over the momentum from his win at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic last week with seven birdies today. Lawrie, meanwhile, finished strong, birdying three of the final five holes to tie his best ever round in a major. And Colsaerts did his damage later in the day, as the temperature dropped and the winds picked up, carding his career-best score in a major.
Brandt Snedeker was two shots back at 4-under par.
Tiger Woods, a three-time winner of the Open Championship and the odds-on favorite at this year's event, was three shots back with an opening round of 67. Tee to green, Tiger played nearly flawless golf and would've enjoyed better results if he had been able to sink a handful of very "makeable" putts.
"I hit the ball well all day, I was just lacking a little bit of pace on the greens coming home," Tiger said in his post-round presser. "I was just—every putt I hit was on line, except for the one I hit on 12. But every putt was right on my line, they were dying off the front of the lip. So, I needed to hit the putts a little bit firmer."
Joining Tiger at 3-under par were seven other players—among them were reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson, former U.S. Open champions Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy and three-time major champion Ernie Els.
Also at 3-under were Steve Stricker, Peter Hanson and Toshinori Muto.
Another shot back, the names were not so familiar. At 2-under par were Jamie Donaldson, James Morrison, Thomas Aiken, Scott Pinckney, Anders Hansen, Jbe Kruger, Justin Hicks and Anirban Lahiri.
Other notable players at even par or 1-under and within six shots of the lead were world No. 1 Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, Hunter Mahan, K.J. Choi, Jason Dufner, Vijay Singh, Matt Kuchar, Charl Schwartzel, Francesco Molinari and Fredrik Jacobson.
Overall, 53 players were at even par or better after Thursday's opening round. But don't expect that to become a trend if weather conditions deteriorate.
Whatever Mother Nature decides to bring to the table over the next three days, the key, of course, is to put the ball in the fairway. Even with near-perfect weather early today, the thick, lush rough and deep pot bunkers were proving troublesome to those who struggled with accuracy.
One such player was the No. 3 ranked golfer in the world, Lee Westwood, who found himself playing a left-handed shot out of a bunker.
"Can't remember the last time I had to play a left‑handed shot, never mind out of the bunker," he said in his post-round presser.
Westwood (plus-three) was among those players over the current projected cut line of 2-over par. Also in danger of missing the cut are notable players like Phil Mickelson (plus-three), Martin Kaymer (plus-seven) and defending Open champion Darren Clarke who shot an opening round of 76.