Impressive Zach Johnson takes charge in testing conditions in British Open
American holds one-shot lead over Rafael Cabrera-Bella and Mark O’Meara
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain hits out of a bunker on the 18th during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield. (Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images
The examination, even without any meaningful wind, was an onerous one as the first piece of the jigsaw fell into place here in this 142nd edition of the British Open over a brown-tinted links at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers; and, if some of the wailing emanating from golfers who should know better could have been confused for the sounds of the gannets out on Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, the actual scoring spoke loudest of all.
When the dust had settled on a long day’s golf, American Zach Johnson – who had fine-tuned for this test by contending in the John Deere Classic where he lost out in a play-off to teenager Jordan Spieth – was lone atop the leaderboard. His opening 66, five-under-par, providing a one-shot lead over Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bella and 1998 champion Mark O’Meara.
The mix of young and old was an intoxicating one, demonstrating that guile and power – in whatever hands – can find the answer to whatever test is presented. Yesterday, much of that test focused on greens that grew more treacherous as the round went on. The greens were double cut at 4.00am in the morning and single-rolled to provide a running speed of 11 feet on the stimpmeter but, in truth, were faster than that in the afternoon with some players comparing the surfaces to ice rinks and glass and such like.
Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, defended the course. “We set up the golf course to test the players’ course management strategy, as much as anything . . . we’re still very satisfied with the course. It’s playable; but, indeed, very testing.”
As you’d expect for a British Open. And comparisons that some players made to Shinnecock Hills and the 2004 US Open were well off the mark.
As Australian Geoff Ogilvy, one of those who had a later tee-time and encountered greens at their slickest, observed: “It’s not that crazy. It’s just what we’re used to on a links . . . there’s nothing silly there, just really fast.”
Graeme McDowell also backed the set-up.”They’re fair. They just get so glassy and crispy around the holes. That’s the only way you can describe it. You literally can see 300 footprints around the hole from all the players and caddies and whatnot that have been out there, (but) the surfaces are fine. I couldn’t single out a pin that I thought was unfair.”
US Masters champion Adam Scott, who opened with a level par 71, agreed: “It’s testing, you’ve got to be really careful.”