CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Spencer Levin worked on his bunker shots in the first round of the 136th British Open on Thursday. His sideways bunker shots. He was forced to escape laterally, away from the hole, on the 2nd, 10th and 12th holes. The 499-yard, par-4 12th was where he made a triple-bogey 7.
All of which went to explain how the bearded, cigarette-smoking 23-year-old Canadian tour pro shot a five-over-par 76.
"It's the same type of deal," Levin said when asked to compare Carnoustie with Shinnecock Hills, where he made his name with a 13th-place finish, including a hole-in-one, in the 2004 U.S. Open. "You've just got to drive it straight. That's the way all the majors are, at least the majors I've played."
Levin was a favorite of golf writers when he burst onto the scene at Shinnecock three years ago. He smoked, he had a wicked temper and, most importantly, the 5-foot-8, 135-pound amateur from Sacramento was a huge talent.
He was a first team All American at the University of New Mexico and the second-ranked amateur in the world when he left school. But after Shinnecock he pretty much disappeared. He turned pro at the 2005 U.S. Open but hasn't had much luck in America. He has no status on the PGA or Nationwide tour, where in four starts this year his best finish is a T15 at the Jacobs Creek Open in Australia.
And so he's playing in Canada, where his results have been Tiger-like: In seven starts this season, Levin has two wins and four other top-five finishes.
"It's been ups and downs," he said of his two-year pro career. "I'm starting to feel more comfortable. I've had a good year, and I feel like I'm getting better each year."
Ryan Moore happened by and the two exchanged greetings, and scores. Moore, too, was subdued after bogeying three of his four holes for a one-over 72.
"Tomorrow," Moore said.
"Yeah," Levin replied, barely audible. He doesn't smoke that much anymore, he said. He wore a navy blue, longsleeved shirt with "Dunning" on the breast, a sponsorship he's had since turning pro in 2005. It's the same company that sponsors squeaky-clean Masters champ Zach Johnson.
The two couldn't be more opposite. While Johnson plays where he likes, turning down invitations hither and yon, Levin plays where he can. He took a shot at $2 million earlier this year at the Ultimate Game in Las Vegas. An associate paid his $50,000 entry fee, and while Levin won a match, he missed the cut thanks in part to losing his second qualifying match on the fourth extra hole.
Alas, he won a more meaningful if not more lucrative playoff to get here, making par on the first extra hole to survive a six-for-three bake-off at the British Open sectional at Oakland Hills, Mich.
He's brought a small entourage with him this week, including his father, his mother and her husband, his girlfriend and his grandfather. They're all staying at a B&B only 10 minutes away. Levin will try to give the gang more to cheer about when he tees off at 3:59 p.m. Friday.
"I've still got a round to go," he said. "It's not over yet."