LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Hey, Old Man Wind, get off your ass.
The Open needs you.
The first round of the 141st Open Championship allegedly unfolded at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on Thursday, but you wouldn’t have known it. Not with the dearth of wind, rain, and general unpleasantness that typically make this tournament so darn fun. This wasn’t the Open -- it was a continuation of last week’s John Deere Classic.
In eerie calm, 53 players shot par or better. Thirteen shot 67 or better, including, you guessed it, John Deere champ Zach Johnson (65). And at least three players employed the word “attack” in their post-round interviews.
“If you got it in play,” Scotsman Martin Laird said, “you could really attack.”
Give me retreat and surrender.
Give me upside-down rain, biting cold, and 45-mph gusts. Give me Rickie Fowler in oven mittens, Phil Mickelson’s mullet fluttering in a stiff breeze, and fans scrambling for shelter under half-broken umbrellas. Give me a BBC cameraman’s hand madly wiping water from his lens. Give me punch shots and knockdowns and stingers. Give me doubles and triples and others. Give me Titleists bounding off greens like racquetballs. Give me water puddling in pot bunkers. Give me Tom Watson marching up 18, his trousers flapping like sails on a schooner.
Just don’t give me what we had in the first round at Lytham: a sublime day for scoring and a dreadful day to be a kite salesman.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (67) noted the amenable conditions when he arrived on the tee at the par-3 ninth. He looked around and saw players in short sleeves. He looked up and saw red all over the leaderboard: four-unders, five-unders, Adam Scott at seven under. (The Aussie would finish six under.)
“It was kind of weird standing out there,” McDowell said. “It was a pretty benign start to the week.”
Pretty benign? In the midst of the wettest, dreariest summer England has experienced in 100 years, this day was freakish, a gift from Harry Vardon, Sir Henry Cotton and the rest of Britain’s golfing gods. How favorable were the conditions? Balls weren’t just checking up on the greens, they were backing up.
Tiger Woods, who shot a la-di-la 67, knew what kind of day was in store when the 5-iron he drilled at the flag at the 205-yard, par-3 first hole barely rolled out. “I can’t remember the last time [a shot] did that on a links golf course,” Woods said.
What about you, Tom Watson? You’ve played in a few of these things. Where does this day rank on the pushover meter?
“It’s not the most benign,” Watson began before referencing the first round of the 2009 Open at Turnberry and the third round of the 1980 Open, which he won at Muirfield. “But usually you get more wind than this.”
Like in the third round of last year’s Open at Royal St. George’s, when the early starters staggered through 30-mph gusts and torrential rain. Or four years ago at Birkdale, just down the coast from Lytham, when things got so ugly that Sandy Lyle and Rich Beem raised white flags and declined to finish their rounds.
Now those were British Opens.
Thursday at Lytham? Not so much.
Ask Thomas Aiken, the South African, who carded a 68 and then hesitated to discuss the conditions for fear of stirring Mother Nature from her slumber.
“I’m not going to say anything, because I don't want it to get worse,” Aiken said.
But then he did say something, a lot of things, in fact.
“At most you’d have a club -- the shorter irons a club and a half -- of wind,” he said. “There’s no rain. Temperature is pretty decent. It’s not too cold.”
Sergio Garcia got straight to the point.
“The day was perfect,” the Spaniard said, even if his score (72) was not.
Friday morning doesn’t look so cheery -- the official Open forecasters are calling for rain until 10 a.m. -- but the afternoon is expected to bring “fine” weather with likely “sunny spells.”