LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — If the Scots weren’t already disgusted enough that England was hosting back-to-back Open Championships for the first time since they’d invented the game, Thursday’s first round and its bloody red leaderboard must have driven them screaming to the whiskey bar.
“Nae wind, nae gowf” is how the Scots view the game, and Thursday was as “nae wind” is it gets when the morning wave scorched the defenseless links. If Adam Scott had birdied the last to shoot the first 62 in major championship history, the R&A might have dismissed it with an asterisk as if it was a wind-aided world record in track and field.
“It was just like a nice walk in the park today, and it was not what we’ve experienced in the practice rounds,” Scott said after a bogey on the 18th forced him to settle for a 64 and a tie for the course’s Open record set in 1996 by Tom Lehman.
There was nothing proper about the way Lytham played on Thursday. The grass was too green. The bunkers too sodden. The rough too thick. And worst of all, the wind too somewhere else. Carnoustie, perhaps.
“The wind wasn’t blowing and we’re backing golf balls up,” said Tiger Woods, who went out in 30 strokes on the front nine that could easily have been a 28. “So we knew we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine and I figured a couple under would have been good. But I look up on the board and Scotty is going pretty low and so is everyone else.”
With an 86-year-old reputation for delivering quality Open champions, Lytham proved Thursday it can deliver quantity as well.
A who’s who of modern major winners convened atop the leaderboard to see who can join the Hall of Fame roster of Lytham champions. Frankly, the course didn’t do much to stop them. After the
morning, Scott led a phalanx of six major champions in his immediate wake – Paul Lawrie, Zach Johnson, Woods, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson and Graeme McDowell.
At one point in the afternoon, 11 major winners were under par and eight were in the top five until Rory McIlroy beaned a spectator and bounced out of bounds and Keegan Bradley spent five minutes surveying an unplayable lie as if his long putter might grow enough to give him a drop in the fairway.
McIlroy, to his credit, got back to 67 with a couple of late birdies after his bad carom on the 15th to leave seven major champs among the 13 players tied for sixth or better. And that doesn’t even count 13-time major winning caddie Steve Williams carrying the lead bag.
“It was alarming to see so many red numbers,” said Sergio Garcia, who wasn’t among them with 72.
Nobody sent up more alarms than Scott. With five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, Scott sat at 7-under par after walking off the 16th green. One more birdie and he would have eliminated 25 names from the record books with the lowest scoring round ever in a major.
“I was waiting to use the bathroom going to the 17th tee and I did take a look at the leaderboard and realized it was a par 70,” Scott said. “And I also probably then realized that I wasn’t going to be the guy to shoot 62. It’s one of those things that you don’t want to go through your mind, thinking about your final score and stuff like that.”
Of course they don’t hand out trophies on Thursdays, but with so much quality at the top of the board a lot of guys might have shot themselves out of claret jug consideration with over-par rounds. Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson shot disappointing 73s. Reigning Open champ Darren Clarke continued his slump toward a premature retirement with 76, of which the best that could be said is that it beat Martin Kaymer’s 77.
Lytham might bite back Friday with a little wind steering balls into its tapestry of bunkers and ribbons of rough. Or it might play opossum for another day and deliver a whole new crop of red numbers to shuffle the deck of marquee leaders.
“This golf course is a sleeping giant, and obviously conditions and the weather are going to play a huge part of it this weekend,” McDowell said. “We got the nice side of it this morning, but we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow afternoon.”
For tonight, the Scots will sneer at England and growl at all the sub-70 scores. And the English will share their disgust at what Mother Nature and the world’s best golfers did to a venerable royal links.
For an Open with no wind and too much red is just not cricket.