It was the kind of day perfect for kites, flags, toy gliders and really good air quality. If it had been any more windy Thursday at Royal Troon, the British Open would have been forced to change its name, because it had just been blown over to Belgium.
As it turned out, it is no surprise that part of the first-round lead belongs to Jim Furyk, whose unorthodox, loopy swing may be resistant to wind.
Darren Clarke matched Furyk’s four-under-par 67, which is understandable because Clarke is from Northern Ireland and thus owns local weather knowledge.
Obviously, Furyk doesn’t. He was fooled after the 15th hole when he was standing in a swale and sheltered by a grandstand.
“I asked my caddie, ‘Did the wind die down or is that just my imagination?”’ Furyk said. “Then we hopped up to the 16th tee and it was blaring in our faces. I don’t think it died down too much.”
Well, no, that’s something it didn’t do all day.
Pant legs flapped in the breeze, flagsticks bent sideways, the wind blew, the scores soared on the back nine and just about everyone considered himself fortunate to survive the experience without requiring some sort of anchor.
Only two shots behind are Fred Couples, Greg Norman and Justin Leonard, who braved the wind to post 69s. Another shot back at one-under 70 is an international group of five: Davis Love III and Andrew Magee of the United States, Angel Cabrera of Argentina, amateur Barclay Howard of Scotland and Jesper Parnevik of Sweden.
No one else broke par, not even Tiger Woods, who birdied two of the last three holes and shot 72.
Woods’ highlight was a 435-yard drive on No. 4 with the wind at his back. But he also had a problem at No. 11, “The Railway,” when he had to step back from the tee after the engineer of a passing train tooted at him.
Woods hit a drive into the gorse, took an unplayable lie, hit a 2-iron to 120 yards, an 8-iron over the green, chipped to 6 feet and two-putted for a triple-bogey 7.
“Rounds under these conditions are going to test your patience,” Woods said. “I kind of got through it, and it was OK.”
What everybody was trying to get through was the last nine holes. The big problem was that you had to play those bad boys directly into the wind.
Only one player in the field of 156 played the back nine under par, Parnevik.
Of course, the way Troon is laid out, it meant the wind was at the players’ backs on the front nine. This provided the strategy for the day, as explained by Tom Watson.
“What you have to do on this golf course is sort of like playing the Chicago Bulls,” said the five-time British Open champion, who shot a 71. “You’d better get a 20- or 30-point lead and then hang on for dear life.
“That’s the way you play this golf course. You get off to a good start on the downwind holes, and then you have your work cut out for you.”
Defending champion Tom Lehman shot a 74 that included a 40 on the last nine holes. He hit one green on the back.
As Lehman walked off the ninth green, he said to his caddie, Andy Martinez: “Batten down the hatches.”
It was a good idea. Couples punched out a tidy 31 on the front, then began the turn with back-to-back bogeys. He also bogeyed the 18th after he left his second shot just short of the green.
“The back nine is about as hard a nine as you’ll ever play,” he said. Norman had five birdies and one bogey on the front and made it look easy. But he could not manage one birdie on the back side to offset a pair of bogeys when he drove both times into the right rough.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LEADERBOARD Scores after the first round of the British Open (a-amateur): Jim Furyk 32-3567 Darren Clarke 32-3567 Fred Couples 31-3869 Greg Norman 32-3769 Justin Leonard 34-3569 Davis Love III 32-3870 Angel Cabrera 35-3570 Andrew Magee 34-3670 Jesper Parnevik 36-3470 Jay Haas 34-3670 a-D. Barclay Howard 32-3870
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