Thoughts on Tiger Woods's push, Turnberry's conditions, golden oldies going low and more

Random musings from an intriguing first round of the Open Championship...•  Tiger Woods's nasty push into the burn on 16 is one of the worst shots I've seen him hit in a major. Ever. He followed with a great up-and-down to save bogey, and I'm not saying he can't still win, but that skanky short-iron at 16 was a pretty ominous sign. Tiger's untidy 71 is of a piece with his play in the majors so far this year. There has been an uncharacteristic inability to convert opportunities, and we've seen more loose shots than what we're used to. It has always been assumed that Tiger is immune to the human emotions felt by mere mortals but perhaps he is pressing just a bit, eager to win his first major since knee surgery and prove to the world, and himself, that he is whole again. Whatever it is, he needs to play a clean round on Friday or this Open is going to slip away in a hurry.•  I'm surprised no one shot sixtynothing, especially given the perfect conditions and Turnberry's history of yielding very low scores. At a major you don't often hear guys grumbling about missed opportunities after a 68 or 69 but that was the sound track to the first round.• What to make of all the golden oldies populating the leader board? Watson, Calc and O'Meara all produced some vintage highlights, proving again that there is golf and there is links golf, and they are not nearly the same thing. The reason there have been so many repeat winners at the British is because the quirky, sometimes maddening linksland is an acquired taste. Many good players never quite get comfortable with the turf and the weather and the crazy shots and blind shots (to say nothing of the bad food, weak water pressure in the showers and the mold smell that defines most hotels here). The trio of old-timers on the leader board have the know-how and patience to finesse their way around the auld sod. Turnberry is also a good venue for the infirm because it's a position course off the tee, unlike, say, the Old Course, where the longest of the long can blow their drives over all the trouble. This week likes of Angel Cabrera and T. Woods and other ball-bashers are laying up short of all the pot bunkers, meaning that on many holes they're playing from roughly the same spot as a short hitter like O'Meara. Can he or Calc or Watson hang on till Sunday afternoon? I doubt it, but it's sure fun to have them around for a while.•  Round of the day might have been Ryo Ishikawa's 68, accomplished playing in front of his hero Tiger Woods and his nemeses--the hundred or so Japanese reporters that obsessively chronicle his every twitch. For his first spin around a true links course, to say nothing of the holy Open, the kid displayed admirable imagination and tremendous poise. Take that, Rory!•  David Howell made a lot of noise with a front-nine 31, and I'll be quietly rooting for him over the next three days. The droll Englishman is one of my favorite people in golf, possessing both good humor and an admirable perspective, both of which were born in Swindon, the old railroad town where he grew up. While trying to get his playing career off the ground Howell spent his winters working menial jobs, beginning with  two years of installing rain gutters for the princely wage of 10 pounds a day. "I wasn't much use because I didn't like heights," he once told me. "I'd get to top of the ladder and hold on for dear life." By sheer pluck he played his way onto the Euro tour, and Howell loves to tell the story of his first tournament. "I was as unprofessional as you could possibly imagine," he says. "Baggy shirt, clubs all knackered, wooden driver with a frayed grip…" Standing on the first tee for the first round he overheard the following conversation between grizzled veteran Roger Vessels and his leathery caddie John McLaren. "What chance has he got?" McLaren asked, eyeing Howell."You never know, but it doesn't look good," said Vessels. •  Best development of the first round was Boo Weekley's surprise appearance on the leader board with a sweet 67. He's been a non-factor since the Ryder Cup but I've always felt the British is Boo's best chance to win a major, because of his head-high ball flight and the fact that the slower, flatter greens deemphasize the importance of putting. The Scottish fans and Euro reporters love Weekley's good ol' boy schtick, and if he happens to take this tournament he'll be one of the most popular winners ever. But I'm going to remain loyal to my pre-tournament pick, Steve Stricker. At least for another day.

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