Rory and Field Chase Kisner after Day 1 at Carnoustie
WHEN Paul Lawrie won The Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999 he did so with a winning total of six over par. Over the years, the course has quite rightly gained a reputation for being the most difficult on the rota. But as the field of 156 teed off during the first round of the 147th Open they were confronted by a very different animal.
Weeks of dry weather have left Carnoustie’s fairways baked and firm, with players able to hit irons more than 300 yards. The normally fearsome rough is whispy, and many of the bunkers are not even in play, such are the vast distances these guys are able to propel the ball in these conditions.
Branden Grace took 62 strokes to negotiate Royal Birkdale 12 months ago and there was a genuine feeling that somebody might be able to better that score in the opening round. The course record is held by Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a barely-credible 63 here in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October. It is a mark that will surely be equalled by somebody before this tournament is over.
By 1pm there were already 24 players under par, with American Kevin Kisner leading the way having reduced the links to 66 blows, which was all the more impressive when you learn that he was one over par after five holes. But eagled the par-five sixth and then birdied the eighth, 13th, 14th and 15th holes. His putter was the key - he used it just 22 times. He was back in the clubhouse by late morning, and nobody was able to catch him.
They were all queuing up behind him, most notably defending champion Jordan Spieth. The American has had a patchy season and is still looking for his first victory of 2018, but he loves links golf and birdies at the second and fourth holes saw him reach the turn in 34, two under par. He then picked up another at the 11th and was breathing down Kisner’s neck.
But it went all went horribly wrong towards the end of his round, with Spieth dropping four shots in his final four holes and finishing the day on one over par.
Rory McIlroy had told us that he planned to overpower Carnoustie but he had another one of those days on the greens, seeing a number of putts horseshoe out of the hole. He was also able to hit only 27% of fairways. But he dropped just one shot all day, at the fifth, and recorded three birdies on his way to a respectable 69.
England’s Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, has endured a miserable time but has recently shown a return to form. He shot a 69 but left the course feeling bitterly disappointed. He dropped a shot at the opening hole, but recovered with birdies at the fourth, fifth and sixth to make the turn in 34. And when he added two more at the 10th and 13th he had progressed to four under par. And that was still how he stood when he came to the 17th. But the Yorkshireman closed out with bogeys at each of the last two holes and took 33 putts - 11 more than Kisner.
There was an encouraging start from Tiger Woods. He got himself to two under but struggled over the closing holes in his first Open since 2014. Nonetheless, he will be satisfied with an opening round of 71.
Before a ball was struck in anger, many people were tipping Justin Rose as a possible winner but a seven at the 14th did his cause no good and he did well to birdie the 18th for a 72. He will hope that it his worst round of the week.
Other notable scores were the 67s of Erik Van Rooyen, Tony Finau and Zander Lombard, the 69s of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas, who at one point looked like he was on the way to something rather better, and the 70s of Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and Alex Noren.
But plenty of the pre-tournament favourites struggled. Dustin Johnson laboured to a 76, Masters champion Patrick Reed was just one shot better, and Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson both had days they will want to forget.
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