2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson shot an opening-round 66 to take a one-stroke lead at five-under par over 1998 British Open champion Mark O'Meara and unheralded Rafael Cabrera-Bello from Spain, who both posted scores of four-under par.
Shiv Kapur put on an absolute show early in his first round, shooting six-under par in his first nine holes. Even his fellow competitors were amazed by his performance. Jason Dufner took to Twitter to express his feelings:
-6 on the front nine last group off, u got to be shivving me!!?!— Jason Dufner (@JasonDufner) July 18, 2013
Unfortunately, Kapur struggled on the back nine and finished at three-under par to close out Round 1 in a tie for fourth place along with four other golfers, including Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker.
Only 20 golfers managed to shoot under par on Thursday, and most of them played early in the day. The course firmed up into the afternoon, making it tougher on players to shoot low.
Phil Mickelson was one who played early in the round, shooting a two-under par round of 69. Afterward, he told reporters he was lucky he didn't have to play in the afternoon.
After shooting 66 in the morning, first-round leader Johnson told reporters that the fairways were running just as fast as the greens, as noted by the PGA Tour:
Zach Johnson: "It's just so dry out there right now. The fairways are running as fast as the greens." #TheOpen— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 18, 2013
This was just Thursday, folks.
The course is only going to get faster, firmer and more difficult.
But these players are ready for the challenge and have set themselves up nicely for a second-round surge up the leaderboard.
Tiger Woods (-2)
Through nine holes on Thursday, Woods' game was shaky—at best.
He was one-over par through nine and struggled from his opening tee shot, which ended up in the left-hand rough.
Then, when the course was at its most difficult and with his first round on the line, Woods reached down deep inside and put together a magnificent second nine to finish his round at two-under par.
He opened up the back nine with three birdies in his first four holes, and his putt on No. 13 couldn't have been more perfect. As shown by Julian Garcia, Woods drained his long birdie putt in dramatic style, to the delight of the crowd watching:
As impressive as Tiger's back nine on Thursday was, the best part about his first round was that he didn't seem to experience any elbow discomfort or pain. Woods put himself in a few bad spots early, as noted by Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel, but he came away from the opening round unscathed on the injury front:
Tiger Woods elbow tested right out of the gate. Two pulled tee shots and a deep hack out of the rough.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) July 18, 2013
When in good health this year, Woods has been nearly unstoppable on the golf course. After his elbow injury cropped up at The Players Championship, he struggled badly, but he'd won four of six stroke-play tournaments leading up to his unfortunate setback.
Phil Mickelson (-2)
Before winning the Scottish Open last weekend, Mickelson had never won a tournament on United Kingdom soil.
History shows Mickelson and links golf courses to be bitter enemies. In his career, Lefty has only finished in the top 10 at the British Open twice, while compiling at least eight top-10 finishes in all three of the other major championships.
But in the past five rounds on a links course, Mickelson has posted a combined score of 21-under par. He made a couple of mistakes on Thursday, leading to two bogeys, but Mickelson was for the most part playing with efficiency and confidence.
He's figured out a winning formula for playing on links courses—one that includes the omission of a driver in his bag, as reported by TheOpen.com.
Lefty hit 71.4 of his fairways in regulation on Thursday, which led to 72.2 percent of his approach shots finding the green. If not for a couple of missed putts at critical moments, Mickelson would have posted an even more impressive score in the first round.
Mickelson is hot right now, and he'll continue playing well on Friday on his way up the leaderboard.
Jordan Spieth (-2)
While Rory McIlroy is off in Never-Never Land looking for his lost marbles, Spieth has risen up to take his place as the hottest young golfer in the world.
Having won the John Deere Classic this past weekend, Spieth earned an invite to the 2013 British Open, despite the fact that he had absolutely zero status on the PGA Tour before the start of the season, as noted by the PGA Tour:
In addition to his victory on Sunday, Spieth had logged five top-10 finishes this season, and he's certainly earned the right to play amongst the game's greatest at Muirfield this weekend.
Displaying excellent poise under pressure on Thursday, Spieth played a clean round, logging just one bogey to go along with his three birdies.
He was firing laser shots into the greens on Thursday, hitting 83.3 percent of his greens in regulation. If you watched him at the John Deere Classic, then you know this isn't a new thing for this kid. Once he gets the speed of the greens down, Spieth is going to be even more deadly.
As noted by Golf Channel researcher Michael Holleran, Spieth is nearly 20 years younger than the average player in the top 10 at the 2013 British Open:
avg. age of players in the top 10 at the Open: 38+ years and that includes 19 year old Jordan Spieth. Puts what he's doing into perspective.— Michael Holleran (@Mike33Holler) July 18, 2013
Spieth is certainly not playing like a 19-year-old, and he's going to continue putting on a show on Friday with another round under par to move up the leaderboard.
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