by Kevin Stott | From an American perspective, Tiger Woods’ absence was the big story heading into Thursday’s 137th British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Merseyside, England, but after the first round it was apparent that the weather and the course conditions may end up really being the big story.
Players who had the earlier tree times on Thursday suffered as wind gusts of up to 25 mph ravaged the course as well as player’s scores. By mid-afternoon though, the rain had subsided and the wind speeds died a bit and players like Adam Scott (25-1 Las Vegas Hilton) and Greg Norman (250-1, Caesars) with later tee times seemed to profit from the luck of their tee-off draw time. Both shot even par (70) for the day and were just one stroke off the lead in the clubhouse tied with Bart Bryant (175-1, CP) in second place.
Rocco Mediate (40-1 Caesars, opened 85-1) – the golfer who pushed Tiger Woods to a playoff the US Open in Torrey Pines (San Diego) last month – was tied for the lead in the clubhouse after shooting a 1-under-par 69 on the 7,173-yard course. Scottish Open winner Graeme McDowell (85-1, CP) and Robert Allenby (75-1, CP) also shared a part of the lead after the first day of play at 1-under.
A group of eight golfers sat in third place after the opening round after shooting 1-over 71’s. That group included Retief Goosen (25-1, CP) Mike Weir (50-1, CP), Jim Furyk (20-1), Gregory Havret (Field, 8-1), Fredrik Jacobson (Field, 8-1), Peter Hanson (175-1), Simon Wakefield (Field, 8-1) and Anthony Wall (Field, 8-1).
Last year’s winner, Padraig Harrington (8-1, CP) shot a 4-over 74 and was five strokes off the lead after the opening round.
Weather for Friday’s second round of play will just as much of a challenge with rain and gust of 25 to 35 mph predicted while Saturday’s forecast is even worse with heavy rains and wind speeds up to 45 mph to come.
Phil Mickelson (8-1, CP), who shot a 9-over 79, eight shots behind the leaders on Thursday, was stymied by the conditions.
"Talk about my round?" said Mickelson after the first 18 holes. "It’s not a fun topic of conversation. It was tough for everybody."
Sandy Lyle (8-1, Field), simply walked off the course after the 10th hole after being 11-over par at that point realizing that the combination of the horrible conditions and his score would make it very hard for him to contend.
The British Open will be televised Friday on TNT from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on TNT and then from 9 a.m. until the end of play on ABC; and on Sunday, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on TNT and from 8 a.m. until the end of play on ABC. Sirius Satellite Radio is also carrying the tournament.