The common theme of the U.S. Open was the incredibly challenging greens that yielded abysmal scoring conditions in the second major of the year. Through Day 1 at Muirfield, much of the same is holding true at the 2013 British Open.
Good scoring wasn’t impossible, but players unable to find their ball-striking accuracy and top form with the flatstick had very few looks at birdies.
Furthermore, pin placement wasn’t exactly what many golfers wanted to see on Day 1. Ian Poulter was extremely unhappy with the positioning of some of the holes, No. 8 and No. 18 specifically:
Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) July 18, 2013
The Open Twitter feed provided a diagram of all the course’s pin locations for the round prior to its start:
Poulter finished the day with a one-over 72 and seems to have had a legitimate concern about the location of No. 8. Nicolas Colsaerts also shared a few words about the pin placement of the hole after finishing his opening round with a four-over 75, as did Jason Dufner following a one-over 72:
are we ever gonna see this back back pin placement on 8?? #tucked#justforonce#aberdeennextyear#ScottishOpen— Nicolas Colsaerts (@Coelsss) July 13, 2013
Hole locations and green speed to watch on the back are 13-18. Nasty stuff— Jason Dufner (@JasonDufner) July 18, 2013
Still, everyone had to deal with the same locations on the same holes, and not everyone fared so poorly. By the end of Day 1, 20 golfers sat at one-under or better, including 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson (minus-five), world No. 8 Brandt Snedeker (minus-three) and U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson (minus-two).
Perhaps the biggest story of the day, however, was the success of Shiv Kapur. A relative unknown entering the tournament, the 31-year-old Indian fired off a three-under 68 to finish the day tied for fourth.
Kapur bounced around atop the leaderboard on the back nine with a double-bogey at No. 10 to drop below Johnson, but his string of six birdies on the first seven holes announced his presence as a legitimate contender following Round 1.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy continued a season of futility and underachievement on Thursday with an eight-over 79 performance in his opening round. McIlroy birdied just two holes on the day (No. 7 and No. 13) and demolished his card with two double-bogeys and six bogeys scattered throughout his round.
At Muirfield, playing winning golf is as much mental as it is physical. McIlroy told BBC Sport he just didn’t have the focus he needed to piece together a better round Thursday:
Rory McIlroy says he felt "unconscious" and "brain dead" as he began his Open challenge with an eight-over-par 79: http://t.co/3lKCwdEebI— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) July 18, 2013
Mickelson, on the other hand, looked as focused as ever in his two-under 69 Round 1 effort. While he also spoke about Muirfield’s difficult pin placement following his round on the television broadcast, he attacked the course with a conservative enough approach to avoid the dangers of Muirfield’s brutal greens and put himself in a position to make a move on Friday.
Mickelson entered the tournament as a favorite to secure his fifth major victory, but the overall favorite was out searching for major win No. 15.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods got off to a slow start after bogeying the par-four first and par-four sixth, but he picked up steam on the back nine, carding three birdies in the first four holes of the back half. He did mix in another bogey at No. 14, but Woods finished strong to turn in a two-under 69 to set up what could be a bounce-back performance and his first major tournament victory in more than five years.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, no other player carded more than three birdies on the back nine to that point:
Despite having already won four tournaments this year, Tiger has sputtered in major events. With the pressure on, the best player in the world returned to form and didn’t seem to let the pressure get to him. As a result, the rest of the field should be looking over its shoulder heading into Friday and the rest of the weekend.
Tiger Woods has broken par on 3 of 1st 4 holes of back 9; only one golfer has more in entire back 9 so far (Bud Cauley, 4)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 18, 2013
Any score under par should be considered a successful day given Muirfield’s difficult scoring conditions, and Woods should feel good about how well he played on Day 1—especially after seeing some of the difficult situations he avoided, like this one Harris English got himself into during his round:
It’s not often we see a player chip into the rough to get out of trouble, but Muirfield presents a lot of dangers for those unable to keep the ball in the fairway.
Leaderboard Top Eight (Fairways Hit)
|Player||Score||To Par||Fairways Hit|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez||68||-3||78.57%|
Let’s take a look at a couple more noteworthy performances from Day 1 and some storylines that will continue to play out as the tournament progresses.
Nineteen-year-old Jordan Spieth became the first teenager in more than 80 years to win a PGA Tour event with his victory at the John Deere Classic, and he did plenty on Thursday to put himself in contention for a major tournament win this weekend.
Spieth didn’t take many unnecessary risks, and while he missed some birdie opportunities throughout his round (14 pars), he did birdie No. 3, No. 5 and No. 17 and mixed in just one bogey on the day.
Finishing the round at two-under, Spieth showed that his first PGA Tour victory wasn’t a fluke. Watch out for the young phenom as he takes to Muirfield Friday.
Since winning the 2012 Masters in thrilling fashion, Bubba Watson has struggled to meet the lofty expectations that win produced. As such, his performance in majors has been heavily scrutinized in the last year.
Watson has posted three top-10 finishes this year, but he hasn’t been dominant enough to suggest he should be a front-runner at the Open Championship.
But the 34-year-old did plenty to put himself in good position on Thursday. Watson finished the day at one-under with a 70 and peppered in four bogeys on his card, but he finished his day with an impressive eagle on the par-five 17th to punctuate an all-around solid round.
Like Watson, Dustin Johnson eagled the par-five 17th to put an exclamation point on his round, finishing the day at three-under tied for fourth place.
Johnson has three top-10 major tournament finishes to his name, and he’s never far from contention when the weekend rolls around. If he continues hitting nearly 78 percent of green in regulation and stays out of too much trouble off the tee, that should be the case at Muirfield as well.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect of Johnson’s round was how little he used the long stick, as noted by Sky Sports:
Johnson is one of the tour’s biggest hitters, but he opted for his 3-wood much more regularly Thursday. Unfortunately, he still hit just 64.29 percent of fairways and probably should have avoided the rough a little more regularly.
Louis Oosthuizen Withdraws
2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen was expected to be a serious contender for a second title this year, but the 30-year-old South African wasn’t able to make it past the ninth hole on Day 1.
As reported by Geoff Shackelford of Golf Digest and Golf World, Oosthuizen’s back forced him to make an early exit after hitting a hook at No. 9:
Dustin Johnson speaks to the press after his 68. He says he hit driver just once today (at 5). pic.twitter.com/LeLwRcru7C— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 18, 2013
Brentley Romine of Golf Week reported that Oosthuizen actually had a neck injury—the same injury that forced him to withdraw from the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May—but whatever the case, his week is done.
Romine also noted the withdrawal of Peter Hanson, who suffered a back injury. Hanson has been plagued with back issues this year and previously missed two months from the injury.
Controlling Moisture in the Greens
Muirfield started out with enough moisture in its greens to give players some good scoring opportunities, but as the day progressed, the greens dried out and made life increasingly difficult for players with later tee times.
Louis Oosthuizen hits quack hook off 9 tee, shakes Woods and McDowells hands and is done. Walking gingerly. Back couldn’t hold up. #TheOpen— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) July 18, 2013
Several unhappy players spoke out on Twitter and in post-round interviews discussing the issue. Green speed and moisture control is going to be a major talking point this weekend.
Typically, course conditions—specifically those involving moisture control—aren’t an issue when weather is close to ideal. As long as the rain stays away in ensuing rounds, moisture will be an issue.
As such, it will be interesting to see how scores from earlier rounds compare to those of golfers going out later in the day on Friday. If the USGA hopes to avoid backlash over the issue, something will have to be done to better control the speed of the greens.