Sunday, June 24, 2018

British Open: Course griping, Tiger flying, Rory flopping

The scores weren't bad all in all Thursday, but many in the 156-player field weren't thrilled with the layout of the course at Muirfield. Not helping were higher temperatures, gentler winds and more sunshine than this corner of Scotland usually sees in a month. The weather produced a course that resembled an airport tarmac in more than a few places. No one felt safe until the ball stopped bouncing along the crusty fairways, and no one was sure when that would happen. A sampling of opinion:

"I was shocked with a couple of the pin placements." — leader Zach Johnson (5-under 66)

"The guys that played early had a huge, huge break. Because even without any wind, it's beyond difficult." — Phil Mickelson (69, shot in the morning)

"Unfortunately, the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face." — Ian Poulter (72) on Twitter

"I haven't seen anything like this. I've played in, I think, five Opens. … (It's) foreign to see a 2-iron going 300 yards." — Brandt Snedeker (68)

"I'm not a big fan of guys that get out there and whine a lot. … They're so talented, the players today, and they're playing for so much money. If they think (the course is unfair), then they need to look at the old man and say, 'How did he do it that way?' They should be able to play in these conditions." — Mark O'Meara (67)

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said he and his people were "very satisfied" with the course but would take player comment into account when deciding how to set it up today.

Tim Clark (72), asked whether he would make changes to his game, said: "Bring a lot of Kleenex for the tears."

Tiger goes 1-up on Muirfield

Tiger Woods was feeling awfully good about his 2-under 69, which was three shots off the lead and had to give him hope his five-year drought in the majors might end this weekend on a course playing like it is in the middle of a drought.

"It was tough," Woods said. "The golf course progressively got more dried out and more difficult as we played. I'm very pleased to shoot anything even par or better."

That Woods broke 70 in the afternoon was impressive enough. It was doubly so that he did it after nearly snap hooking a 3-wood out of bounds on his opening tee shot and having to take an unplayable when the ball nestled in a deep clump of unruly grass.

Woods made bogey 5 on the first hole even with the penalty shot by hitting his third shot into a greenside bunker and getting up and down. It set the pattern for a day of one-putts that not only prevented the round from getting away from him but put him in prime position going into today's second round.

"We're supposed to get a different wind (today)," Woods said. "It will be interesting to see what the course setup is."

He's a head case. Just ask him.

Rory McIlroy was ready to get some help after a fat 42 on the back nine almost surely put him out of contention in the British Open barely after it began.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm walking out there and I'm unconscious," McIlroy said.

McIlroy, 24, imploded with a startling series of missed shots on the back nine on his way to 8-over 79 that demonstrated just how much the two-time major winner is struggling with his game. The Irishman was 13 shots off the lead after his worst opening-round score in a major even though he believed he hit the ball decently all day.

It left him talking about seeing a sports psychologist to figure out why he can't score like he used to even after doing everything he could to make his game work.

"I just can't put it all together mentally out there," said McIlroy, a combined 24 over in the majors this year. "It's a very alien feeling. … I'm trying to focus and trying to concentrate. But yeah, 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."

Leaderboard trivia

Shiv Kapur, in a group of five two shots off the lead at 3 under, is a native of India who played college golf at Purdue. "It's a funny name in the middle of all those sort of proven major winners and stuff," said Kapur, 31, who plays on the Asian Tour and got into the British Open through local qualifying. He has one career victory: the 2005 Volvo Masters of Asia.

• At 4 under, one off the lead, was 56-year-old Mark O'Meara (right). At 3 under was 54-year-old Tom Lehman. At 2 under was 47-year-old Todd Hamilton. "One for the old farts," O'Meara said.

Stat of the day

In his past six majors, including Thursday, Tiger Woods was 8 under in the first round. In the five majors preceding this one, he was 16 over in Rounds 2-4.

The best of times

If 19-year-old Jordan Spieth has had better weeks, we don't want to hear about them. The Dallas native won the John Deere Classic on Sunday for his first pro win, which qualified him for the British Open. He flew on a charter overnight to Scotland. He saw Muirfield for the first time. On Thursday he had one of only 13 rounds in the 60s, 2-under 69.

"There's even less pressure than there was before," he said. "I kind of accomplished more than I'd thought possible this year. I just wanted to get my (PGA Tour) card for next year. Now it's just really exciting. … I didn't think it would happen this soon. But on the course, I was plenty confident to go out there and do it."

Compiled from Times wires, ESPN,

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