When the wind is whipping and the rain is pouring, Royal Liverpool can be a nightmare for golfers. But with benign conditions in the early part of the 2014 British Open, golfers were able to exploit the relatively straightforward course to post low scores Thursday.
With many of the top names on tour still out on the course at the time of publication, the first-round leaderboard is still fluid enough to change significantly. For those looking to track real-time updates at the top of the tournament, check out the automatically updating leaderboard widget below:
Most folks likely missed the earliest tee times due to the time difference. So what were the most notable developments from the first round's early groups?
Tiger Finishes Hot
Expectations were understandably low for Tiger Woods in just his second start after back surgery. Following bogeys on each of the first two holes, it appeared as though Woods was unravelling and in danger of another short week:
However, the vintage Tiger that many golf fans have longed to see showed up seemingly out of nowhere. Woods made five birdies over a six-hole stretch on the back nine, finishing his round at three under par and causing a frenzy in the media:
Through seven holes on his back nine Tiger Woods has 5 birdies a bogey and a par. SportsCenter is likely cuing up the LeBron treatment.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) July 17, 2014
Woods showed little discomfort throughout the round, even as he started poorly. According to USA Today's Reid Cherner, Woods believes he is "only going to get stronger and faster" as he rounds into form. Considering his pinpoint accuracy to end the round, he sounds more believable than when he asserted that he was "encouraged," via ESPN.com, despite missing the cut at Congressional.
Of course, the problem for Woods in recent majors has been his inability to string together 72 holes. Woods resembled an unstoppable locomotive in his prime, picking up steam as the pressure mounted. Until he exhibits that form once again, cautious optimism is likely the wisest course for Woods fans.
Rory Surges to the Top
If Woods has been the tour's most talented golfer for nearly two decades, then Rory McIlroy at least seems on the verge of seizing that title. McIlroy surged to the top of the leaderboard with a strong all-around performance Thursday, notching six birdies and no bogeys en route to a score of six under par.
McIlroy hit 14 out of 18 greens in regulation, and though the conditions aided those stats, it was still an impressive showing on a links golf course. Of course, McIlroy's issue this season has not been the first round but rather his consistently disastrous second-round showings:
Rory McIlroy is now a combined -57 in his opening rounds of 2014. He's +9 in round 2. Solid day tomorrow would open a huge door.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) July 17, 2014
The 25-year-old learned that painful lesson last week, when a Friday score of 78 tarnished what was otherwise an excellent showing at the Scottish Open. A similar unraveling occurred at the Masters, where a second-round 77 contributed to McIlroy's eventual eighth-place finish.
There is little doubt that McIlroy is the favorite to win his first Claret Jug and his third major overall. If McIlroy simply treads water Friday, there is a high probability that he will remain at or near the top of the leaderboard throughout the weekend.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round was the performance of a trio of Italian golfers. Matteo Manassero, Edoardo Molinari and Francesco Molinari all teed off early and shot a combined 13 under par to occupy spots in the top five at the conclusion of the round.
The 21-year-old Manassero is a rising star, though his wildly inconsistent 2014 season suggests that serious major contention may have to wait another few years. The Molinari brothers are familiar faces to golf fans, though, and both could remain viable contenders based on their excellent Thursday ball-striking:
Edoardo Molinari hit 16 greens in regulation today. Impressive considering he's the second-best ballstriker in his family. #TheOpen— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) July 17, 2014
Older brother Edoardo has missed the cut in two of his past three events—all on the European Tour. Francesco has played a heavier PGA Tour slate, with his best showings this year including a sixth-place finish at the Players Championship and a fifth-place showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The younger Molinari brother is likely the more serious contender, having finished in a tie for ninth in last year's British Open (Edoardo has never had a top 10 at a major). For at least one day, however, Italian golf fans had their day in the sun with three countrymen emerging as early contenders.