On a day when the Old Course at St Andrews showed why it is just as happy to give as it is to take away, the field at the 150th Open Championship was split by a 19 shots after just 18 holes and almost 16 hours of golfing action.
In between 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie hitting the opening shot just after 6.30am, and the last group walking off the 18th green just after 10pm, the opening day of the season’s final major produced plenty of drama, with road-like fairways, firm greens and a freshening Fife breeze resulting in 55 players leaving the course with a red number next to their name.
The leaderboard is stacked with big names, but perhaps not at the very top, where 25-year-old New Yorker Cameron Young, playing in his first Open Championship, skipped round the Old Course in 64 shots to lead the field by two shots. Playing in the benign early morning conditions, Young, who finished third in this year’s US PGA Championship, fired eight birdies in a bogey-free round, with a combination of big hitting, accurate iron play and a tidy short game serving him well around a course he only saw for the first time on Monday.
Rory McIlroy, the pre-tournament favourite, also took advantage of the good early morning scoring conditions to shoot a six-under-par 66, with his only dropped shot coming at the difficult 13th, a 465-yard par four where the pin had been placed directly behind a bunker in an almost unreachable position.
“It was great to get off to a good start,” said McIlroy. “It hasn’t been my strong suit in recent seasons but at the US PGA Championship, US Open and now here, I’ve got off to a nice start and it’s all you can ask for. There were a couple of adventures in there too, but for the most part it was pretty stress free.”
Australian Cameron Smith, who won the Players Championship in March, sits one shot back at five under and he was joined on that mark by England’s Robert Dinwiddie who finished his round with a birdie in near darkness.
England amateur Barclay Brown is keeping good company at four under with Viktor Hovland, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch. World number one Scottie Scheffler was among the later starters and battled strengthening winds and lightning-quick fairways to also reach four under.
Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Xander Schaufele and Danny Willett are among a group of 14 players on three under, while defending champion Collin Morikawa opened with a level-par 72, a score matched by US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.
Poulter, who received some boos on the first tee given his involvement in the LIV Golf Series, hooked his opening tee shot five feet from being out of bounds, but still managed a par. He then holed an incredible 160-foot putt for an eagle two on the driveable par-four ninth.
Three-time winner Tiger Woods, back on his favoured turf, slumped to a six-over 78, which could have been so much worse given that the 15-time major champion was six over after just seven holes, but he battled back bravely, with birdies at 9, 10 and 14, although his hopes of making the weekend’s play are now slim.
“That was probably the highest score I could have shot,” said Woods. “I just wasn’t very good on the greens. It looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 on Friday to have a chance. I need to do it.”
The pace of play was funerial at times, with rounds taking over six hours to complete because of how compact the course is and players criss-crossing each other, or waiting for greens to clear on driveable par-four holes.
Matt Fitzpatrick was one of many to criticise the turgid pace. “It’s just a joke, isn’t it? Like six hours, 10 [minutes]. This just shouldn’t be happening ever in golf,” he said. “It’s the way the golf course is set up. It’s how firm it is. The way the golf course is designed. You’re crossing over a lot, and to get better angles and better lines, you’ve got to hit across all the fairways. There’s nothing you can do unfortunately about it. It’s just ridiculous.”
For the full live scores from The Open, click here.