Thursday, 19 July 2012

Great Scott takes early Open advantage

Everyone at Royal Lytham and St Annes feared the worst for the 141st Open Championship yesterday, as practice sessions were plagued by horrific conditions; bunkers, full of water, masqueraded as rock pools and the players dreaded what was in store for them.
Today, we expected pars to be a bonus and birdies to be a heavenly blessing, but the rainclouds never seriously threatened the course, leaving warm, calm conditions and a beautiful playing surface. Hence many surprisingly low scores appeared on the leaderboard as the players tried to make the most of the opportunity presented.
And none were more impressive than 32-year-old Australian, Adam Scott, who finished with a six-under-par round of 64 and is one of the few players in the top 10 not to have won a major. A 63 would have been a record-equalling first round score at a major, something only 26 other players have achieved in the entire history of the sport.
Scott is regarded as one of the best players not to win a major
His start of two pars and a bogey was not the most encouraging, but Scott turned on the style with birdies at holes 4, 5 and 7 to tie for the lead. He bettered this with a sensational back nine with five birdies to lead outright. If he maintains this momentum, Nick Faldo’s 1992 Open record for the lowest score after two rounds (130) will be under threat.
It bucks the trend which Scott has experienced in majors so far this season, with opening rounds of 75 and 76 at the Masters and US Open respectively saddling him with uphill battles. For a player who usually improves as major championships go on, it is something of a concern for rest of the field.
Occupying second place at five under are Paul Lawrie, Zach Johnson and Nicolas Colsaerts, a 30-year-old Belgian who made the cut at a major for the first time at this year’s US Open. He was briefly tied for the lead in the third round of that tournament, symptomatic of an impressive season having beaten Graeme McDowell in the final of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in May. He will be full of confidence and is one to watch over the next three days.
However, defending champion Darren Clarke’s hopes of retaining the Claret Jug look in dire straits after a round of 76, fully ten shots off the lead. When he starts his second round at 14:10 tomorrow, his first aim will be just to make the cut, never mind be in contention.
As for the British cavalcade, McDowell and Rory McIlroy, on three under par, are in the best shape. The former enjoyed an excellent front nine in which he hit four birdies and is prepared for whatever weather Lancashire has to throw at him: “I’m under no illusion that this golf course has teeth and could be a sleeping giant for sure.”
The latter, after a solid front nine, endured a bumpy ride afterwards in which he hit a spectator on the head from the 15th tee, but held his nerve to hole a birdie on the 18th to give himself every chance of catching Scott.
Westwood endured a frustrating first round, despite a bright start
Elsewhere, James Morrison (who played in the same England youth cricket teams as Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan) played the round of his life with a magnificent two under par 68. World number one Luke Donald finished on 70, but squandered numerous birdie puts before bogeying the 18th.
However, it was a frustrating day for Lee Westwood, who suffered four bogeys in his last six holes to finish three over, while 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen did not look himself at all with a disappointing round of 72. Both will be praying for good conditions tomorrow as there is work to be done if they are to climb back up the leaderboard.
As for the Tiger, who was the bookies’ favourite before the tournament, the word “ominous” was being muttered around the course after his first seven holes as he knocked in four birdies. His swing looked as good as ever and his aggression paid off; write him off at your peril.
So as expected, this year’s Open is finely balanced after day one but there will be many more twists and turns before we reach the climax on Sunday. For now, Adam Scott will be the happiest of the group and all eyes will be on the Australian when he resumes his quest for a maiden major title at 13:43 tomorrow.

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