The 142nd Open Championship's first day has finally ended, with the last players wrapping up their opening 18 holes as a beautiful Scottish sunset came to pass.
The day, which began a little past 1 a.m. ET, was full of your typical Open Championship hijinks. There were shots hit into silly fairway bunkers, top-flight players seeing their major dreams go by the wayside and even a player snapping his club in frustration.
But for the most part, Muirfield Golf Links provided a rather subdued opening round. Twenty players sit below par after their opening rounds, which is precisely 14 more than could say the same at the 2013 U.S. Open. Wind conditions were rather tame, and the weather was nothing short of sensational. The ocean backdrop made for a visual masterpiece in high definition.
The worst thing that players could say about conditions on Thursday was that the greens played a little fast. Considering the complaints one could have about an Open Championship course, things weren't bad in the slightest. Not bad at all.
When things were all said and done, Zach Johnson's five-under 66 gave him a one-stroke lead over the rest of the field. Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Mark O'Meara are tied for second place, and both of them represent major surprises on a day full of them at Muirfield.
With that in mind, here's a quick breakdown of some of Thursday's most surprising results.
McIlroy Has a Rory Bad Time
Few should have expected Rory McIlroy to win this year at Muirfield. He has gone over half of the calendar without a trophy, finding a never-ending series of pitfalls along the way.
Some will try to blame his personal life because he's dating tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki. Others will point to McIlroy's switch in clubs; he went to a full slate of Nike-sponsored gear for the first time in his career in 2013.
The fact is, he has just played poorly. He has lacked focus, gotten himself in a mental funk on the course and made multiple strange club decisions. The amalgam of McIlroy's personal life, change in clubs and outside expectations likely plays some part in his downfall but not enough for what we've seen this year.
And especially not enough to create the display fans saw on Thursday.
McIlroy shot an eight-over 79 during his opening round, the worst opening 18 of his career in a major tournament. After a solid start put McIlroy on the fringes of the hunt—he was only one-over through the front nine despite some obvious cracks in his game—the back nine saw the 24-year-old North Irishman play some of the worst golf of his career.
Unable to find the proper clubs, distance, accuracy or anything of the sort, McIlroy opened the back nine bogey-bogey-double, and it was all downhill from there. A birdie on the par-three 13th was one of his two saving graces of the day, but he coughed that up with another double on No. 15 and closed out with consecutive bogeys.
Not even McIlroy could explain what went wrong, except to note that his problems are mental, per ESPN's Bob Harig:
I don't know what you can do. You've just got to try and play your way out of it. But it's nothing to do with technique. It's all mental out there. And then I just need to concentrate, obviously. But sometimes I feel like I'm walking around out there and I'm unconscious. I just need to try to think more. I'm trying to focus and trying to concentrate. I can't really fathom it at the minute, and it's hard to stand up here and tell you guys what's really wrong.
If we're finding positives here—and there aren't many to be had—McIlroy once shot an 80 at St. Andrews and finished in third place. Of course, his opening-round 63 helped the cause, but still. There's at least some modicum of hope.
Of course, he sounded like a guy ready to pack up and leave Scotland when talking to the press after Round 1. Odds are that he won't see the weekend.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Shiv Kapur Carded Rounds of...Wait, Who?
One of the funnest traditions of major championships is going over the who's-who-of-who's-that cropping up on the leaderboards after the first round. The sheer number of golfers in these major events tends to lend itself to anomaly. But it's nevertheless entertaining to see even the most hardcore golf fan head to Wikipedia to find out who these mystery men are.
Cabrera-Bello is just one stroke behind Johnson after shooting an especially strong 67. The 29-year-old Spaniard carded six birdies, spreading two each across par threes, fours and fives, against only two blemished scores.
His approach to the course was simple—blast the holy hell out of the ball and hope for close approaches. He averaged a massive 323 yards off the tee but hit a paltry 42.9 percent of his fairways. That rate was tied for 131st in the entire field and not too far off from McIlroy's dreadful total.
However, Cabrera-Bello's strategy paid off. He took advantage of his length off the tee and missed the worst of the rough—he made sitting in the first cut look like a specialty.
But putting was Cabrera-Bello's saving grace. He one-putted nine times, one fewer than putting leaders Tiger Woods, Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson.
Overall, it's an understandable round from Cabrera-Bello, if not a repeatable one.
As for Kapur, who carded a three-under 68? I have no earthly idea.
All I know is that for holes No. 1 through No. 7, the 31-year-old Indian looked like the best golfer in history. He birdied six of his first seven holes, taking a commanding lead atop the leaderboard early in the day before things normalized late.
The former Purdue standout was so amazing that ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico couldn't help but implore fans to "Boiler Up," per GoldAndBlack.com's Twitter feed:
After that initial run, Kapur didn't birdie another hole and fell back to three-under. He hit only half of his fairways and one-putted only five times, which makes his six-birdie run all the more astounding.
It's likely neither Cabrera-Bello nor Kapur touches the leaderboard after Thursday. The word anomaly was created for a reason. But Shiv Kapur once lead the Open Championship. No one can take that away from him.
Jordan Spieth's Quiet Ascent Continues
When Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Amateur for the second time in 2011, he joined Tiger Woods as the only multi-time champion. He is quite possibly the finest young amateur since Woods, finishing in a tie for 19th in his first PGA Tour event as an amateur.
Only after carrying his Texas Longhorns to a national championship and winning just about every individual honor bestowed upon collegiate golfers did Spieth turn pro last December. It's a bit strange, then, that the 19-year-old's rapid rise from amateur to national champion to solid PGA Tour golfer hasn't gotten the widespread attention it probably deserves.
I mean, we love making big deals out of things we probably shouldn't. So why not Spieth?
Well...at least, why not Spieth until now?
His true ascent into the national lexicon began last week when he won the John Deere Classic, becoming the youngest PGA Tour player in 82 years to do so.
Neither Tiger nor Rory won before their 20th birthday. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were both older when they won their first titles. And the John Deere Classic, while a second-tier event, is not some piddly little sideshow. The field boasted multiple top-50 players who were trying to get their game right for Muirfield.
Spieth sure got his game together and then some. On a day where many youngsters would have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the Open Championship, he looked at home while shooting a 69—just three strokes off the lead. He carded three birdies against only one bogey and hit 83.3 percent of his greens in regulation.
Smarts and accuracy were needed on a day the course played fast, and Spieth had them in spades.
Still, not everyone is quite on board with Spiethdemonium. Look at ESPN's Tom Rinaldi heartlessly refuse the Texan's request for dap following his opening-round interview:
Let the record forever show that being dissed by Rinaldi is more flustering than an Open Championship golf course. Fear the Rinaldi, folks.
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