Zach Johnson fired a five-under 66 to grab the lead by one stroke at the 2013 British Open on Thursday over Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Mark O'Meara.
Gullane, Scotland's Muirfield Golf Links were completely burned out by the time the afternoon wave came through, making greens almost impossibly fast. One of the few who emerged under-par was world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who is just three shots off the pace after an impressive minus-two effort.
As relatively surprising as it is that Cabrera-Bello and the 56-year-old O'Meara are near the top of the standings, it was Shiv Kapur who stole the show.
Kapur birdied six of his first seven holes to leapfrog Johnson, and though he stumbled down the stretch, he still managed a round of 68.
Below is a brief overview of the leaderboard, followed by more detailed analysis on many of the exciting developments that occurred at Muirfield on the first day:
*For complete scores, visit TheOpen.com.
ESPN's Justin Ray showed how unlikely Kapur's sudden explosion was in the context of his previous career exploits, which are modest at best:
Shiv Kapur's career on the European Tour: 164 starts, 0 wins, 5 top-10's, 70 cuts missed.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) July 18, 2013
The fact that Kapur was able to rally back and hang in there after double bogeying the 10th is a testament to his resolve. An inside scoop by Sports Illustrated's Alan Shipnuk suggests that respect for Kapur's game should be more prominent:
Back in '07 Jeev Milkha Singh told me,"Keep an eye on Shiv. He has the total game but, more importantly, he has the mind. He is not afraid."— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) July 18, 2013
Jason Dufner, who posted plus-one on Thursday, had a hilarious reaction to Kapur's scintillating start:
-6 on the front nine last group off, u got to be shivving me!!?!— Jason Dufner (@JasonDufner) July 18, 2013
As for the man atop the leaderboard in Johnson, he entered the Open off his best result of 2013 at the John Deere Classic, where he lost in a five-hole playoff that he was rather unlucky not to win.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel surmised that the golf gods perhaps owed the 2007 Masters champion some good fortune:
Zach Johnson nearly won twice in the John Deere playoff. Neither chip nor putt would drop. Consolation prize? First-round lead at Muirfield.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 18, 2013
Johnson kept the momentum going from that encouraging performance, eagling the par-five fifth hole with a massively long putt that bended to the right and into the center of the hole from long distance.
Birdies at the next two holes allowed Johnson to go out in five-under 31, and he weathered the more difficult back nine admirably to finish alone at the top.
It appears the opening round are a cakewalk for the veteran lately, per Steve Elling:
Zach Johnson’s last three opening rounds: 65 at Travelers Championship, 64 at John Deere Classic and 66 at Open.— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) July 18, 2013
Plenty of players are on Johnson's trail, though, and going out at a later time tomorrow is sure to present a formidable challenge. However, his shut-faced style of swing and low ball flight can weather the terrain with the best of them.
Old Guard Renaissance, New Age Sensation
While it was somewhat expected that Kapur would fade—especially when conditions got tougher—O'Meara really had a chance to pull even with Johnson. Unfortunately, his birdie putt at the 18th after a sensational eagle at No. 17 cruelly spun out of the hole:
O'Meara won the 1998 Open the same year he won The Masters, and this is a welcome return to form.
Another ex-champion in Tom Lehman fared well, too, birdieing his final two holes to get to three-under. It was in 1996 when Lehman captured his Claret Jug, and he seems intent on improving his last trip to Muirfield when he missed the cut in 2002.
Miguel Angel Jimenez is 46 and hasn't shown signs of quality golf as of late until now. The Mechanic is one of the best active players not to have won a major, and he is knotted with Lehman, thanks to a hot start in which he turned in five-under 31.
On the completely other end of the spectrum, the 19-year-old who beat Johnson in the John Deere playoff was Jordan Spieth. That victory got him the last spot in the field, and he didn't disappoint.
Spieth hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation en route to a two-under round of 69 to match Woods, Angel Cabrera, 2004 British Open winner Todd Hamilton and recent Scottish Open winner Phil Mickelson.
This doesn't appear to be a prodigy who will flame out, either, and the bandwagon is certainly filling up with regard to oddsmakers (h/t Kyle Porter of CBS Sports):
Jordan Spieth is now 20-1 to win the 2013 British Open, started at 150-1.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 18, 2013
It appears as though Spieth has the makings of being the next American superstar, as he's already 11th in the FedEx Cup point standings. A strong finish this week would only enhance his rapidly rising stock.
Tiger vs. Phil On Tap?
Woods and Mickelson never quite had the rivalry many had hoped would materialize, but they did post matching scores.
The 14-time major winner duck-hooked his tee shot at the opening hole and ground out his round in the afternoon, but amazingly recovered for bogey:
That set the tone for Woods' day, and his 32 on the back nine was nothing short of phenomenal. Lefty's ordeal wasn't as stressful. Unfortunately, though, Mickelson failed to birdie the par-five 17th and three-putted the last green when he could have easily posted four under.
Golf World highlighted the incredulous distances some shots were traveling in reference to Woods' 285-yard six-iron:
Tiger Woods to ESPN after his 2-under 69: "It got quick. It got really quick. It's still fiery out there." Says he hit a 6-iron 285 yards!— Golf World (@GolfWorldUS) July 18, 2013
Mickelson was highly critical of the course conditions after the round, and noted how the morning wave benefited greatly (h/t PGA Tour):
Phil: "The guys that played early had a huge, huge break." His comments on Round 1: http://t.co/1xFZ6l0wAU— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 18, 2013
There are plenty of compelling storylines, but an epic showdown on a links style golf course between two players with some of the best short games in golf history would truly be a treat to watch.
Cut Line Projection: (+5)
Perhaps the most outspoken—and unsurprisingly at that—about how Muirfield is playing was Ian Poulter. Already active on social media, his comments caused a stir:
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
2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel snapped his six-iron in half in frustration:
Who will win the British Open?
Tournament organizers will have to do something to address the concerns raised by Poulter and the evident lightning-quick course.
Even world No. 2 Rory McIlroy and third-ranked Justin Rose couldn't fare better than 79 and 75 in the morning wave. Although McIlroy's game is a bit lost at the moment, those scores are a testament to how tough Muirfield is when it isn't completely dried out.
Since the BBC forecast for Gullane has no indication of precipitation, Muirfield should still play extremely fast and require players to land shots well short of the green and essentially hope for the best.
Thus, the lead shouldn't budge much from Johnson's current number, and the Top 70 should be somewhere in the plus-five range.