The 141st Open Championship got underway at 6.19 this morning with veteran Barry Lane hitting the opening shot into the heart of the 1st green. TV coverage got underway at 9am and viewers were trusted straight into the heart of the morning rounds, with considerable attention paid to marquee groups featuring the likes of Els, Clarke, Woods, McDowell, D.Johnson, Rose, Garcia. I will cover the rounds of those players I earmarked in my ten to follow later in the piece, however here are my thoughts on the remaining big stories from the day’s action. Aside from leader Adam Scott and Tiger Woods, much of the remaining positive limelight for the morning starters was focused on leading UK hope’s, Paul Lawrie and Graeme McDowell.
Lawrie, it can be argued, rode his luck at times, particularly during his first 6 holes, which in his own words were, ‘the most bizarre first six holes of my career’ it did feel he was turning pars into birdies or bogey’s into pars with sublime scrambling. After playing the front nine in 3 under, an early dropped shot on his back nine at 10 threatened to derail his progress but birdies at 14, 15 and 18 fired him into a tie for 2nd. Whilst the cynical could argue that had it not been for strokes of luck in his opening 6 holes he could have been level par or worse, the heart he showed in bouncing back from an early dropped shot on his back nine has to be commended and stands him in very good stead for the ups and downs that the next three rounds are certain to contain.
McDowell, played a fairly typical McDowell round, gritty and dogged, with it’s fair share of action, he looked very assured throughout the round, despite it being in his own words, ‘not my best ball-striking rounds’. As 2010 US Open champion, he will take extra confidence from his play today and his proximity to the lead knowing he has produced the goods at a Major recently, though he won’t be getting carried away and has alluded to the fact that this course a tough test in waiting calling it ‘a sleeping giant’. McDowell’s dogged nature should in theory stand him good stead to consolidate his position tomorrow but he has let good starts in The Open slip before, most recently last year, when he held a tie for 6th following an opening round of 68, only to shoot 77 to miss the cut. Hopefully for McDowell and his supporter’s sake, this will not be in his mind.
One player who played superbly in the morning rounds was Zach Johnson and he will be grateful for the attention being diverted elsewhere by the big names in proximity of the lead. He is very much a danger man under the radar, it’s a role he is used to as he played it to perfection last week when winning the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour. He had already bagged a win prior to that this year and will be full of confidence and despite an average Open Championship record, he will take heart in his finish of tied 16th at Royal St George’s last year. If he continues his superb play tee to green he will almost certainly stay in contention tomorrow.
On the other end of the spectrum to Johnson, McDowell and Lawrie was defending champion Darren Clarke, unfortunately for him, the morning round was a continuation of the poor form that has dogged him since last year’s victory. Other big names to suffer in the morning were Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose who at 7 over and 4 over respectively have their work cut out to make the weekend.
As the afternoon starters began, the attention of the TV coverage shifted towards the marquee groups involving Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Phil Mickleson and Padraig Harrington. It was a day to forget for Mickleson who at 3 over is facing a battle to make the weekend, Harrington and Donald fared better and at even par for tournament will be hoping to kick on tomorrow morning, Donald did look like he was plodding along for much of his round and his play was devoid of any real spark so of the two looks the much vulnerable to being sucked into a battle to make the cut as he looked to be playing his best golf just to make par.
Rory McIlroy was always destined to grab headlines with his round, but in carding a 67 to sit in a tie for 6th he has guaranteed that there will be further fanfare about his chances keeping the Claret Jug in Northern Ireland. The reality is much different though as the problems in his game in the past few month’s are still on evidence though not with the frequency of recent tournaments. I remain unchanged in my opinion that his game is still in flux and the improvement required to win this week will not be forthcoming, today was a step forward but his course management did appear a bit muddled again with excessive use of the driver which could prove to be his downfall tomorrow.
Scoring in the afternoon defied predictions that it would struggle to match that of the morning play, two players made big splashes in particular, Brandt Snedeker & Nicolas Colsaerts. Colsaerts used his length off the tee to great effect and recorded an afternoon best of 5 under, the highlight of which was an eagle 2 on his front nine. Brandt took a more sedate route to his 4 under round of 66, with 4 birdies and 14 pars and rates a big threat if continuing in such vain of consistently making pars, much like Zach Johnson.
I promised I will now summarise my thoughts on their individual days and make a prediction for their next day’s round
Dustin Johnson – As someone who was very keen on the chances of Dustin this week, his performance today was a big disappointment, he put himself in trouble on the first two holes and despite get away with par on the 1st he was punished with a bogey on 2, despite this he turned for home 1 under and but bogeys on 10, 13, 14 & 17 left him 3 over and with a huge mountain to climb tomorrow to make the cut. He put massive pressure on his putting by hitting just 10 Greens in Regulation and his accuracy of the tee was lacking as he hit just 8 fairways out 14. He is capable of putting in a round tomorrow that will see him move up the Leaderboard but he needs to hit least 4 fairways and greens more than today. Prediction for tomorrow – It’s a do or go home situation for Dustin so he is likely to go out tomorrow swinging and with that mindset anything (good or bad) is possible, so a safe prediction is he won’t be shooting an even par round.
Tiger Woods – His opening round of 67 puts him tied for 6th, on paper you would be forgiven for thinking of that final score as a disappointment as he played the front nine in 4 under. However at Lytham your birdies are traditionally picked up on the front nine, in fact with the exception of his bogey on 14, he rarely looked in trouble. He looked extremely focused and the conditions look to be more in his favour than those at the recent US Open when the slopes of the fairways were pronounced by the hardness of the surfaces. One concern would be his putting, which was by his own admittance not tuned into the pace of the greens. However, his ball striking was at it’s best and looked so comfortable in making his score that a repeat score or better looks likely tomorrow. Prediction for tomorrow – Another steady and comfortable round, based on the predicted forecast I would expect a 66 or 67.
Lee Westwood – A birdie-birdie start for Lee was a dream start for him, and perhaps he was thinking that stood in over his 2nd shot in the middle of the 3rd fairway, a pulled approach shot into the greenside bunker which he placed over the flagstick and a double bogey soon followed. That hole perhaps summed Lee’s day up best as after getting himself back to 1 under through 12 holes only drop 4 shots in his final 5 holes to leave him 3 over and needing a good score tomorrow to make it through to the weekend. His iron play was nowhere near his usual high standard and this needs addressing if he is to make the cut. Prediction for tomorrow – Another over par round which will in all probability see him miss the cut, he didn’t look himself and seemed reluctant to fully load up on his shots so you could suggest he is carrying a niggle from his recent groin injury scare.
Ernie Els – A score of 67 puts him alongside Woods in a tie for 6th, but their rounds were markedly different, Els produced what is best described as a yo-yo round that ultimately was up rather than down. Els shot 6 birdies, 9 pars and 3 bogeys, but all in all looked fairly steady throughout his round and reaffirmed his liking of Lytham. His putting was particularly impressive again compared with his putting stroke of last year, he’ll go into tomorrow’s round feeling very comfortable and with high hope’s of a repeat performance. Certainly if can continue to putt to today’s level he will be in good stead. Prediction for tomorrow – The Big Easy looks booked for the weekend but I do think he might fall back tomorrow with a 1 or 2 over par round.
Rickie Fowler – Rickie didn’t look overly comfortable today and it is clear the back trouble he has been suffering with is clearly affecting his game, on that basis shooting 1 over is a credit to him, he did little wrong on balance but issues on his iron play left him behind the eight ball consistently throughout his round. Prediction for tomorrow – I think Rickie will struggle to make it for the weekend and it perhaps would not be a bad thing if he did miss the cut as it would allow to get back to the US to deal with his back problems.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – At 1 over he is a delicate position of knowing he can’t afford many mistakes tomorrow if he is to make the weekend but will realistically need to make birdies to do so. In reality, he actually had a steady round, he will rue double bogey he took on 8 as it had penalised him a great deal. Miguel always plays with a smile on his face and with a closing hole birdie on the tough 18th he’ll feel he gained momentum as the round progressed today and his steady play off the tee paid dividends in the end. Prediction for tomorrow – I think Miguel will be a big mover tomorrow, his experience of the course will help him and a predict a round in the mid 60’s is well within his grasp.
Retief Goosen – At level par, Retief will be looking to move up the Leaderboard tomorrow when he tees off at 10.04 tomorrow, he very nearly holed out on 16 for eagle but had to settle for a birdie which cleaned up his card and by parring his way home he is in a good position to cement a position above the cut line, projected at the moment to be around 1 over. He will certainly draw on his performance in France in his last tournament, when he produced a great round on the Friday morning to make the cut from a poor opening round position. Prediction for tomorrow – The goose will certainly be thinking in terms of 66 or 67 but I think 69 or 70 is more likely which will secure his place for the weekend but do little to enhance his hopes of a finish at the business end of Leaderboard.
Andres Romero – Andres produced another steady round in The Open, level par and a round that had little in the way of mistakes or in fairness highlights, he will feel fairly comfortable with his position but will be hoping to up his performance to make certain of a 5 cut out of 5 in Open Championships. The danger is that he presses too much and ends up adding mistakes rather than highlights into his round tomorrow, hopefully he will get the right balance to allow him to move up in the standings. Prediction for tomorrow – A bold one but I predict a 74-76 for him as I feel he will push it too hard tomorrow and end up in trouble early in his round.
Tom Watson – Old Tom had a decent round rolling on walking onto the 16th tee but bogeys there and on the 18th left him 1 over and in a similar position to Miguel, he will be annoyed that he bogeyed 7 as well. Given the injury problems he has had with his right hand, it was still a very good effort today. The draw has been very kind to him and he will have plenty of rest time before his afternoon tee time tomorrow. He will need to draw on his vast experience tomorrow to navigate himself to a score that will see him though to the weekend, his play was generally steady enough today to give him encouragement. Prediction for tomorrow – I can see a round of 68 which will be enough to see him through to the weekend.
Adam Scott – Scott stand’s at the head of affairs after the 1st round after his 6 under round of 64 tied the course record and amazingly it’s the first time he has ever been the end of round leader at a major, so it is uncharted territory for the Australian who went the opposite way to tradition and built his score on the back nine, playing it 4 under. But for a bogey on 18 he would have set a new course record, that bogey was almost predetermined off the tee when he found thick rough. He will be full of confidence following a nearly flawless round, his aim for tomorrow will be definitely be to retain his lead. Prediction for tomorrow – I can see him playing a score around level par which should see him retain his lead or at least be in striking distance of the lead
Other than the above mentioned players, two players worth keeping an eye are Peter Hanson, who seems to bring his best game to the big stage and looked assured in his round of 67 today, he also has a burning desire to prove he has got over his final day disappointment at Augusta in April., he could well be the big morning mover tomorrow. Of the afternoon starters, my nomination of a player to watch is Jamie Donaldson, who has the ability to shoot it really low and is well placed at 2 under.