McIlroy and Woods deliver in first round of British Open
Rory McIlroy had everything go his way Thursday in the British Open.
A lovely summer day in England with abundant sunshine and minimal wind allowed him to attack Royal Liverpool. He made half his six birdies on the par 5s and kept bogeys off his card. And on the day Tiger Woods made a promising return, McIlroy took the lead with a 6-under 66, his best score in nearly two years at a major.
Now if he can only find a way to get to the weekend.
McIlroy either set himself up for a good run at the claret jug or another dose of Friday failures. In what already has been an unusual year for golf, no trend is more mysterious than Boy Wonder going from awesome to awful overnight.
Six times in his last eight tournaments, he has had a nine-hole score of 40 or higher on Friday that has taken him out of the mix.
“It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before,” McIlroy said. “I’m used to doing that. I just haven’t done it recently. We’ll see what tomorrow brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.
“Hopefully,” he said, “it’s just one of those things and I’m able to turn it around tomorrow.”
Woods also would like to keep moving in the right direction. He got off to a troubling start with two quick bogeys, nearly made another one on the fourth hole, and then looked like a 14-time major champion when he ran off five birdies in six holes toward the end of his round for a 69.
Not bad for guy who had back surgery March 31, who started taking full swings only a month ago and who had not played in a major in 11 months.
“It felt good to be back out there competing again,” Woods said.
Such pristine weather — how long it lasts is the big unknown — gave just about everyone a chance to score. Matteo Manassero broke par in The Open for the first time since he was a 16-year-old amateur. He began his round by hitting into a pot bunker, blasting out to the fairway and holing out from 160 yards for birdie. He made five birdies on the back nine, three on the par 5s.
That made him low Italian — barely.
Francesco Molinari and Edoardo Molinari have games that are nothing alike, though they shot the same score. They were in a large group at 68 along with Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry and Adam Scott.
Scott stands out as the No. 1 player in the world, and because he was the only player in the top 10 who played in the afternoon when the wind made Hoylake tougher. Scott went out in 31 and was slowed only by two bogeys on the back nine.
Even in tame conditions, the British Open can mete out punishment — to players, to spectators and even a golf club.
Phil Mickelson was trying to get back to even par when he hooked his approach to the 18th beyond the out-of-bounds stakes down the right side of the hole and had to scramble for a bogey and a 74. He hasn’t broken par at a major since winning at Muirfield last summer.
That still doesn’t top the bad day of Ernie Els. His opening tee shot hit a spectator in the face, and the sight of so much blood shook the Big Easy. When he got to the green, he missed a 1-foot putt, and then carelessly tried to back-hand the next one into the hole and missed that one. The triple bogey sent him to a 79.
Henrik Stenson knocked a 30-foot birdie putt off the 12th green and made double bogey, and then took two hacks out of the shin-high grass left of the 17th fairway. Walking to his next shot, he snapped his gap wedge over his thigh like a baseball player — Bo Jackson comes to mind — who had just struck out with the bases loaded.
Through all this activity, two names came to the forefront — McIlroy and Woods, both trying to restore their games from different circumstances.
McIlroy’s only victory this year was at the BMW PGA Championship, where he started his week by breaking off his engagement with Caroline Wozniacki. He could have had more chances to win except for that 40 on the front nine at Quail Hollow, the 42 on the front nine at The Players Championship and the 43 on the back nine at the Memorial.
He met with Jack Nicklaus, and the topic of his freaky Fridays came up.
“I didn’t mention it to him,” McIlroy said. “He mentioned it to me — ‘How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?’ No, I think what we talked about was just holding a round together. And he was never afraid to make a change in the middle of the round ... to get it back on track.”
The trick for McIlroy is to not get derailed in the second round. For the year, he is 55-under par in the first round and 15-over par in the second round.
Woods gave a light fist pump when he rolled in a 30-foot putt from just off the green on No. 11. He then hit a beautiful approach to 6 feet for birdie on the 12th. That put him under par in a tournament for the first time since March 9, the final round of Doral. OK, the sample size is small — that was the last tournament he played until returning to Congressional three weeks ago after back surgery.
Even so, he was playing with such rhythm late in his round that he might have wanted to keep going. That makes Friday a big day for Woods, too.
THREE-TIME OPEN CHAMPION TIGER WOODS LOOKS LIKE HE'S BACK
BY DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
HOYLAKE, England — The warm ovation Tiger Woods heard walking up the 18th fairway at Royal Liverpool sounded familiar, even if the circumstances were not.
Eight years ago it was because he was about to win the British Open.
Thursday was because he played.
Woods returned to the majors for the first time in 11 months on Thursday and gave thousands of fans perched along the hillocks what they wanted to see — a three-time Open champion looking as if he has the game to win another one.
He atoned for a bogey-bogey start with five birdies in a six-hole stretch at the end for a 3-under 69. Woods was three shots behind Rory McIlroy after a gorgeous day of sunshine and mild wind along the Irish Sea.
He was neither surprised nor satisfied. It felt like the other 250 rounds he has played in the majors as a pro.
"I knew I could do it," Woods said. "That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was strong, more explosive the more days I played. ... I'm only going to get better from that point."
Woods had back surgery March 31 that caused him to miss the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. He returned earlier than he expected at Congressional three weeks ago and missed the cut by four shots. His short game was shabby and he made more mental mistakes than birdies.
The start of this round didn't look much different.
He missed the green with a 7-iron and drew such a tough lie on the downslope of the pot bunker that he had no chance stopping it anywhere near the pin. The shot went across and off the green, and Woods had to get up-and-down for bogey. Then, he badly misjudged the speed of a long birdie try and three-putted for bogey.
Two holes, 2 over.
Even more disturbing was his shot from behind the fourth green after going long with a wedge. Woods used his putter from 30 feet away and came up 8 feet short.
"I hit that putt in practice rounds and I know it's slower," Woods said. "It's more lush over there. There's more grain. It's thicker. I took that into account and still left it 8 feet short. But I buried that one, which was nice."
Two putts seemed to make a difference in his round. That par putt on No. 4 kept him from going 3 over, and a 30-foot putt for birdie from just off the 11th green appeared to make him swing more freely. The next tee shot with a 3-wood was as good as any swing all day, and it set up a 6-iron into 6 feet for a second straight birdie. It also marked the first time Woods was under par at a tournament since March 9 at Doral, the last one he played before back surgery.
He followed that with a 6-iron that left him 7 feet away for birdie on the par-3 13th. After a bogey set up by a 3-wood into the left rough, Woods answered with a 7-iron on an aggressive line to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 15th, and then a simple birdie on the par-5 16th.
The 16th hole was the first — and only time — he used driver all day.
By pure numbers, Woods went 71 holes over eight years without using a driver in competition at Hoylake. The only driver he hit in 2006 when he won was on the 16th hole of the opening round. He put that in the adjacent 17th fairway. Royal Liverpool is greener and longer this year, and most players were using a few more drivers.
The one driver he hit made Woods curse. He tugged it left and figured it was headed for a pot bunker.
"I wanted to start it in that first bunker and hit a hard pull-cut," he said. "And I hit more a pulled straight ball. I didn't think it was going to miss that bunker."
He did, and then put his second shot just short of the green and in an easy spot to chip close for birdie.
Woods was tempted to try to squeeze one more birdie out of his round. His second shot went into a pot bunker just left of the green on the par-5 18th. The lie was good, but the back lip of the bunker slightly restricted his swing. He blasted out to 15 feet and took two putts for par.
"I could have gotten a little more greedy," Woods said. "But there's really no point."
It was Thursday. As long as he's been away, Woods knows as well as anyone there's still a long way to go.
BRITISH OPEN NOTEBOOK
DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
HOYLAKE, England — Tiger Woods was playing his second shot into the par-5 18th when he made a sudden stop in the middle of his swing Thursday at the British Open.
If nothing else, his back must really be better.
What made him stop — and then back off on the next shot — were clicks from cameras. The culprits appeared to be a few journalists using cellphones, and the second time Woods indicated toward the balcony of a corporate tent where two dozen people had phones out.
"There was a lot of cameras out there," Woods said. "We were backing off a lot of shots, and a lot of people moving around. It was tough."
The Royal and Ancient later put out a statement urging spectators to keep their phones on silent and reminded them that photos are not allowed during the tournament.
The number of cellphones wasn't extraordinary. It certainly wasn't as bad as the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, or at the Memorial Tour a few years ago when Phil Mickelson sent a text to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem that phones were out of hand. Mickelson withdrew.
Perhaps the worst abuse of cellphone pictures was at Royal Liverpool in 2006. It was so bad that the R&A banned mobile devices from The Open for the next five years. They were allowed again two years ago. For this British Open, the R&A has encouraged fans to bring mobile devices to take advantage of its app and Wi-Fi on the course.
Woods was asked about the R&A urging fans to bring phones and tablets.
"Just put it on silent," he said.
MICKELSON'S START: Phil Mickelson has been saying it for months: His score isn't reflective of how close he feels he is to playing well.
He shot 74 on Thursday, eight shots away from the lead. Even so, Mickelson said he had better control of the ball that he's had in a long time. He played in the tougher afternoon conditions. And he's not about to write off his chances of defending this British Open title.
"I remember back in '04 at Troon I shot 74 the first day in pretty benign conditions came out the next day and shot 66 and got right back in it," Mickelson said. "And I feel like I'm more on that side of the equation than having another round over par because I just think the way I'm starting to hit it and the way I feel with the putter is just totally different."
Mickelson actually opened with a 73 at Royal Troon and finished one shot out of a playoff.
He gave away two shots on the final hole Thursday by hitting his second shot on the par 5 out-of-bounds. Mickelson didn't even realize the shot landed out-of-bounds.
Royal Liverpool has out-of-bounds inside the course, and Mickelson and many others don't like it. On most courses, out-of-bounds markers are boundaries of the course.
WATSON'S EYE: Five-time Open champion Tom Watson opened with a 73 and was headed to the practice range to iron out some problems.
Then, the 64-year-old put on his Ryder Cup captain's hat as he contemplated the 69 shot by Tiger Woods.
Woods is a long shot to make the team on points having missed three months with a back injury. Watson wants him on the team, though he has said he needs to see some level of performance from the 14-time major champion.
"I would like to see Tiger do well for selfish reasons to see him get on the team," Watson said. "And 3 under right now is a good start."
Woods has played in every Ryder Cup since 1997 except for 2008, when he was recovering from knee surgery. He was a captain's pick in 2010 at Wales.
SWEDISH TEMPER: Henrik Stenson is known to lose his temper on occasion. A week after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship last year, he smashed in his locker at Conway Farms out of fatigue and frustration.
He had a mini-meltdown again on Thursday.
After hitting his tee shot into deep rough left of the 17th fairways, and taking two hacks at it without much progress, the Swede was walking along when he slammed his wedge over his knee and snapped it in two. Bo Jackson would have been proud.
"I didn't see anything. Did you?" Stenson said with a smile when asked which club was broken. "My gap wedge is going to need a little love after lunch."
Stenson has a backup wedge for Friday.
GOOD START: Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton shot a 1-under 71 Thursday in the opening round of the British Open, his first major since he tied for the runner-up spot behind runaway winner Martin Kaymer at last month's U.S. Open.
Compton said he was made to feel right at home in his first British Open.
"It's been pretty calm ... I see smiles and people saying 'good luck'," he said. "But I don't think people really know of me yet."
Compton underwent his first transplant at age 12 due to an inflamed heart muscle and another 16 years later after driving himself to the hospital while having a near-fatal heart attack.
"I'm just a regular guy that has been through some serious stuff and earned a spot to play this year in this tournament," Compton said. "I'm trying to make as much noise as I can. My game, hopefully, will slowly improve during the week."
DIVOTS: An Englishman has not won The Open in England since Tony Jacklin in 1969. The low Englishman after the first round was Ashley Chesters, the European Amateur champion. ... Jim Furyk is playing his first tournament since the U.S. Open. He shot a 68, ending a streak of 15 rounds without breaking par at the British Open. ... Bryden Macpherson of Australia made par on his last four holes for a 49 on the back nine. He shot 90. ... K.J. Choi shot an even-par 72, but there was nothing even about his back nine. He failed to make a single par — four birdies and five bogeys. "Birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey ... I've never had that on my back nine before," Choi said.
BRITISH OPEN AT A GLANCE, DAY 1
The first round of the British Open at 7,312-yard, par-72 Royal Liverpool at a glance (all times EDT):
LEADING: Rory McIlroy shot a bogey-free 66 for a one-stroke lead and his best score in a major since winning the 2012 PGA Championship.
PURSUING: Twenty-one-year-old Matteo Manassero holed out a birdie from 160 yards at the first hole and finished with a 67. The world's top-ranked player, Adam Scott, was another shot back at 68 in a group that included Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry, Brooks Koepka and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari.
TIGER'S BACK: Playing his first major of the year, Tiger Woods bogeyed the first two holes but bounced back to shoot 69. The 14-time major champion missed the Masters and the U.S. Open after back surgery March 31.
WHERE'S LEFTY? Defending champion Phil Mickelson struggled to a 74 and showed no signs of duplicating his 2013 triumph at Muirfield.
BLUE-COLLAR PLAYER: Cheered on by the home crowd, local factory worker John Singleton got off to a solid start, playing the first 11 holes at even par. Alas, he couldn't keep it going, struggling down the stretch for a 78 that may have ended his hopes of making the cut.
KEY STAT: Only three of the top 18 players had afternoon tee times — Scott, Lowry and Boo Weekley (69).
NOTEWORTHY: McIlroy improved his first-round scoring to 55-under-par in tournaments around the world this year. Now, can he keep it going? For some reason, McIlroy has struggled mightily in the second round, with a cumulative score of 15 over.
QUOTEWORTHY: "It's not like I've shot good scores in first rounds and haven't backed them up before. I'm used to doing that. I just haven't done it recently. We'll see what tomorrow brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can." — McIlroy.
KEY PAIRINGS — Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner (4:26 a.m.); Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera (9:05 a.m.); Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth (9:27 a.m.).
TELEVISION FRIDAY: ESPN, 4 a.m.-3 p.m.
FRIDAY'S TEE TIMES
|At Royal Liverpool Golf Club|
|Purse: $9.24 million|
|Yardage: 7,312 yards; Par: 72|
|All Times EDT|
1:25 a.m. — James McLeary, Scotland; Matthew Southgate, England; Hiroshi Iwata, Japan.
1:36 a.m. — Roberto Castro, United States; Victor Riu, France; Tyrrell Hatton, England.
1:47 a.m. — Jang Dong-kyu, South Korea, Nick Watney, United States; Shawn Stefani, United States.
1:58 a.m. — D.A. Points, United States; Y.E. Yang, South Korea; Brendan Steele, United States.
2:09 a.m. — Scott Stallings, United States; Pablo Larrazabal, Spain; Bryden Macpherson, Australia.
2:20 a.m. — George Coetzee, South Africa; Charley Hoffman, United States; Michael Hoey, Northern Ireland.
2:31 a.m. — Kevin Streelman, United States; Brendon de Jonge, Zimbabwe; Brendon Todd, United States.
2:42 a.m. — Gary Woodland, United States; Sandy Lyle, Scotland; Kevin Stadler, United States.
2:53 a.m. — Brandt Snedeker, United States; Graham DeLaet, Canada; a-Pan Cheng-Tsung, Taiwan.
3:04 a.m. — Boo Weekley, United States; Danny Willett, England; Ashun Wu, China.
3:15 a.m. — J.B. Holmes, United States; Jonas Blixt, Sweden; Chris Kirk, United States.
3:26 a.m. — Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain; Bill Haas, United States; Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand.
3:37 a.m. — Martin Kaymer, Germany; Jason Day, Australia; Zach Johnson, United States.
3:53 a.m. — Webb Simpson, United States; Jamie Donaldson, Wales; Yusaku Miyazato, Japan.
4:04 a.m. — Phil Mickelson, United States; Ernie Els, South Africa; Bubba Watson, United States.
4:15 a.m. — Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Spain; Russell Henley, United States; Billy Horschel, United States.
4:26 a.m. — Adam Scott, Australia; Justin Rose, England; Jason Dufner, United States.
4:37 a.m. — Ryo Ishikawa, Japan; Lee Westwood, England; Keegan Bradley, United States.
4:48 a.m. — Kevin Na, United States; Joost Luiten, Netherlands; John Senden, Australia.
4:59 a.m. — John Daly, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Ross Fisher, England.
5:10 a.m. — Mark Wiebe, United States; Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Spain; a-Paul Dunne, Ireland.
5:21 a.m. — Oliver Fisher, England; Chesson Hadley, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland.
5:32 a.m. — George McNeill, United States; Richard Sterne, South Africa; Chris Stroud, United States.
5:43 a.m. — Gregory Bourdy, France; Jin Jeong, South Korea; Matthew Baldwin, England.
5:54 a.m. — Justin Walters, South Africa; Rhys Enoch, Wales; Billy Hurley III, United States.
6:05 a.m. — Christopher Rodgers, England; Scott Jamieson, Scotland; An Byeong-Hun, South Korea.
6:26 a.m. — David Howell, England; David Duval, United States; Robert Karlsson, Sweden.
6:37 a.m. — Dawie Van Der Walt, South Africa; Cameron Tringale, United States; Masanori Kobayashi, Japan.
6:48 a.m. — Chris Wood, England; Matt Jones, Australia; Bernd Wiesberger, Austria.
6:59 a.m. — Erik Compton, United States; Kim Hyung-Sung, South Korea; Marc Leishman, Australia.
7:10 a.m. — Koumei Oda, Japan; Ben Martin, United States; Anirban Lahiri, India.
7:21 a.m. — Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thailand; Brooks Koepka, United States; Edoardo Molinari, Italy.
7:32 a.m. — Branden Grace, South Africa; Freddie Jacobson, Sweden; a-Ashley Chesters, England.
7:43 a.m. — Justin Leonard, United States; Ben Curtis, United States; Paul Lawrie, Scotland.
7:54 a.m. — Francesco Molinari, Italy; Ryan Moore, United States; Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark.
8:05 a.m. — Matteo Manassero, Italy; a-Bradley Neil, Scotland; Mikko Ilonen, Finland.
8:16 a.m. — Thomas Bjorn, Denmark; Patrick Reed, United States; Stewart Cink, United States.
8:27 a.m. — Tom Watson, United States; Jim Furyk, United States; Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland.
8:38 a.m. — Luke Donald, England; Rickie Fowler, United States; Sergio Garcia, Spain.
8:54 a.m. — Harris English, United States; Paul Casey, England; Matt Every, United States.
9:05 a.m. — Tiger Woods, United States; Angel Cabrera, Argentina; Henrik Stenson, Sweden.
9:16 a.m. — Charl Schwartzel, South Africa; Padraig Harrington, Ireland; K.J. Choi, South Korea.
9:27 a.m. — Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Jordan Spieth, United States.
9:38 a.m. — Ian Poulter, England; Dustin Johnson, United States; Jimmy Walker, United States.
9:49 a.m. — Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Matt Kuchar, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa.
10 a.m. — Stephen Gallacher, Scotland; Hunter Mahan, United States; Victor Dubuisson, France.
10:11 a.m. — Nick Faldo, England; Todd Hamilton, United States; David Hearn, United States.
10:22 a.m. — Ryan Palmer, United States; Brett Rumford, Australia; Tomohiro Kondo, Japan.
10:33 a.m. — John Singleton, England; Peter Uihlein, United States; Marc Warren, Scotland.
10:44 a.m. — Paul McKechnie, Scotland; Kristoffer Broberg, Sweden; Juvic Pagunsan, Philippines.
10:55 a.m. — Rhein Gibson, Australia; Brian Harman, United States; Kim Hyung-Tae, South Korea.
11:06 a.m. — Christopher Hanson, England; Oscar Floren, Sweden; Yoshinobu Tsukada, Japan.
|At Royal Liverpool Golf Club|
|Purse: $9.24 million|
|Yardage: 7,312; Par:72(35-37)|
KEY: DD-driving distance; FH-fairways hit; GR-greens in regulation; PT-putts.