JB Holmes leads after opening exam at Portrush
Compact nature of the field emphasised by 41 players being within four of the leader
JB Holmes of the United States on the 18th hole during the first round of the 148th British Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Portrush. Photograph: Getty Images
A cantankerous old day on the Causeway Coast, one that didn’t know right from wrong, and which would have tested the patience of a saint, brought vagaries of heavy rain with flashes of sunshine that nevertheless contrived to ensure that players were given a mental as much as a physical examination in this 148th British Open championship on the Dunluce links.
One minute lumbered with rain gear, the next showcasing polo shirts or jumpers, and with umbrellas behaving as yo-yos, up and then down, players - and their caddies - earned whatever morsels of comfort came their way. “I felt like there was three or four seasons out there,” said Justin Rose of the ever-changing conditions, while Jon Rahm confessed: “I feel like I’ve played two rounds.”
And, after some 15 hours of golf on a pristine links, which had begun with an emotional opening drive at 6.35am from Darren Clarke, it was American JB Holmes who held the first round lead with a five-under-par 66 for a one stroke advantage over Shane Lowry, who overcame early anxiety with a thoroughly impressive round where he hardly missed a beat to lie in second.
Spain’s Rahm - fast-becoming a links specialist - produced the low front nine, reaching the turn in 31 strokes, before coming undone on the homeward stretch, while New Zealander Ryan Fox was even more productive in coming home in 29 strokes (the lowest back nine in Open history) as both joined a large group on the 68 mark.
The drama brought many twists and turns, with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, as well as Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, among those to be spurned, while Lowry’s intent to fly in under the radar was undone with a finely-crafted 67 that immediately thrust him into the spotlight and among those with genuine intentions on lifting the Claret Jug.
Although Holmes managed to separate himself at the top of the leaderboard, with Lowry in outright second, the compact nature of the field was emphasised by 41 players being within four strokes of the leader.
The rain came in heavy bursts, and then left as quickly as it had arrived. And, for Lowry, there was at least an acquaintance with such conditions that have been part of his golfing life since he first took up a club in his early teenage years.
Lowry’s round was, by a distance, the best start he has made to any Major this year; by eight strokes, in fact, over the 75s he posted in both the US PGA and US Open where he motored through the field to finish tied-8th and tied-28th respectively at those two championships.
This one is different, in so many ways. Being played on the Antrim shoreline for the first time in 68 years, a sense of anticipation - and, in its own way, pressure - was evident from the very first tee-shots. Lowry, too, felt nervous, which can be used as a positive too, and also credited a sit-down on the eve of the championship with his coach Neil Manchip that helped get his mind into a good place.
Of that unsettled feeling which materialised the closer the tournament got, Lowry observed: “It’s the British Open, it’s in Ireland. I’m playing well and I feel I should come up and do well. Why shouldn’t I feel uneasy?”
In laying their cards out on the table in a 40 minutes talk, Lowry and Manchip succeeded in getting Lowry in the right frame of mind for the biggest challenge. And as the round grew, so did his confidence. “I got off to a nice solid star, and I was off and running and I was enjoying myself.”
Lowry’s strategy and shot-making was, for the most part, exemplary in tough conditions and a return of five birdies and a lone bogey actually gave him the clubhouse lead for the majority of the day until Holmes birdied the 18th hole to edge ahead of the Offalyman.
“I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys. G-Mac is from here, he grew up here. Rory is an hour down the road and obviously had some great times here. And Darren lives here now. I feel like for me I can kind of be more under the radar than everyone else. But obviously not now. It was nice to shoot a good score and hopefully I can go out and keep at it the next few days,” said Lowry.
Rahm looked to be the man taking control of matters, turning in five-under in a flawless display. But the Spaniard, winner of two of the last three Irish Opens, came undone on the Par 4th - which played as a the toughest hole of the first round, averaging 4.39 - for his first bogey which stalled his momentum. “I really didn’t lose my patience at all out there. I knew what I was doing, it’s just I couldn’t execute properly,” he said.
Ultimately, it was Holmes who slowly and painstakingly stuck to his task to cover the homeward stretch in three-under, the last of those birdies - a 15 footer on the 18th - giving him the outright lead.
Holmes, winner of the Genesis Open on the PGA Tour earlier this season, and with a best British Open finish of third at Troon in 2016, acknowledged the need to adapt to conditions on this side of the Atlantic: “You’re going to have unique conditions where it’s going to be windy and more than likely rainy. You just have to accept the conditions over here, not get too greedy and go after some pins. Just try to hit it to the fat of the green, the middle of the green and hopefully make some putts,” he said of his strategy.
First round scores from British Open at Portrush (British unless stated, (a) denotes amateurs, Par 71):
66 J.B. Holmes (USA)
67 Shane Lowry (Irl)
68 Alex Noren (Swe), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Webb Simpson (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Brooks Koepka (USA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Jon Rahm (Spa), Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Robert Macintyre, Tyrrell Hatton, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Lee Westwood
69 Sang Hyun Park (Kor), Justin Rose, Ashton Turner, Romain Langasque (Fra)
70 Andrew Putnam (USA), Charley Hoffman (USA), Yuki Inamori (Jpn), Branden Grace (Rsa), Patrick Cantlay (USA), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Eddie Pepperell, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Kevin Kisner (USA), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Rickie Fowler (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jason Day (Aus), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Callum Shinkwin, Matt Kuchar (USA), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Cameron Smith (Aus), Russell Knox
71 Justin Harding (Rsa), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Darren Clarke (NIrl), Doc Redman (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), (a) James Sugrue (Irl), Ernie Els (Rsa), Mikumu Horikawa (Jpn), Sungjae Im (Kor), Patrick Reed (USA), Matthew Fitzpatrick
72 Inn-choon Hwang (Kor), Aaron Wise (USA), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Gunn Charoenkul (Tha), Yosuke Asaji (Jpn), Connor Syme, (a) Curtis Knipes, Corey Conners (Can), Lucas Glover (USA), Bubba Watson (USA), Brian Harman (USA), Dustin Johnson (USA), Abraham Ancer (Mex), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters (Bel), Nino Bertasio (Ita)
73 Andrew Johnston, Matt Wallace, Joost Luiten (Ned), Shaun Norris (Rsa), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Oliver Wilson, Takumi Kanaya (a) (Jpn), Chez Reavie (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Prom Meesawat (Tha), Adrian Otaegui (Spa), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Luke List (USA), Brandon Wu (a) (USA), Chris Wood, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Keegan Bradley (USA), Jim Furyk (USA), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Patton Kizzire (USA), Alexander Levy (Fra)
74 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Jason Kokrak (USA), Ryan Palmer (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can), Danny Willett, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), David Lipsky (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Doyeob Mun (Kor), Xander Schauffele (USA), Zach Johnson (USA), Sung Kang (Kor), Stewart Cink (USA), Haotong Li (Chn), Brandt Snedeker (USA)
75 Adri Arnaus (Spa), Kyle Stanley (USA), Paul Waring, Nate Lashley (USA), Sam Locke, Tom Lewis, Chan Kim (USA), Paul Lawrie, Yoshinori Fujimoto (Jpn), Ian Poulter, Keith Mitchell (USA), Jack Senior, Austin Connelly (Can), Isidro Benitez (Mex), Pádraig Harrington (Irl)
76 Dong-kyu Jang (Kor), Andrew null Wilson, Jorge Campillo (Spa), (a) Matthias Schmid (Ger), Phil Mickelson (USA), Joel Dahmen (USA), Robert Rock, Andy Sullivan, Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Jake McLeod (Aus), Billy Horschel (USA)
77 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai), Kevin Streelman (USA)
78 Tiger Woods (USA), Adam Scott (Aus), Marc Leishman (Aus), Tom Lehman (USA), Matthew Baldwin, Richard Sterne (Rsa)
79 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Garrick Porteous
82 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa)
83 Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Dimitrios Papadatos (Aus), (a) Thomas Thurloway
90 David Duval (USA)