The Big Four, they’re already being called, even though we’re not quite sure really how many are Big, or if they’re really Big enough, given they have just eight majors between them so far.
Certainly none of the quartet at the top of the world rankings lit up Royal Troon in the sunshine yesterday. Rory McIlroy was on the verge of making a statement, but after he slipped back there was precious few fireworks and all four of the big guns – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory are some way off Phil Mickelson’s breakneck pace.
McIlroy was the best of them, only for a clubbing error to cost him a double bogey on 13 just as the rest of the field were eyeing his presence towards the top of the leaderboard nervously.
Rory hadn’t looked totally comfortable on the opening holes but clicked at the second par five for the first of three successive birdies. He then plotted his way carefully through the pitfalls at the turn, getting slightly lucky with his tee shot on the fearsome 11th, to stand on the 13th tee at four-under and all the hard work done.
Instead he went through the back of the 13th and then three-putted, admitting that the anger at that error was still with him when he bogeyed the short 14th out of a bunker. He got back a stroke at the 15th but missed out at the long 16th and eventually completed a 69.
“If someone had given me a 69 when I stepped on the first tee I would have taken it, but if someone had offered it to me on the tenth I probably wouldn’t have,” he conceded
“But I’m fairly happy with that. I think you’re looking at something at around 8 or 10-under par that might win this tournament, and I felt like I got off to a good start in trying to achieve that.”
He felt confident after his good front nine, and didn’t feel he had to be defensive when he turned for home into the bigger challenge of the homeward stretch.
“I was probably thinking on the 10th tee I was trying to get a couple more,” he said. “I was trying to get to six-under, but it obviously didn’t quite work out.”
Spieth’s 71 looked fairly nondescript, but he felt there was a shy 65 or 66 fighting – and failing – to get out.
The odd reason for that was his failure to buy a putt all morning, and that’s such a rare occurrence his attitude is to think it’s just a freak of nature.
“My stroke’s been great heading into here,” he said. “Feel like it’s in the same place here, I think if I make the putt on number 1, I shoot 6-under today. It’s was one of those that you see it go in, you believe in how you hit the putt, you match the speed and the lineup, and that belief is there throughout the front nine.”
He “struck the ball phenomenally well”, he reckoned, but just couldn’t match up the speed and line of his putts.
“I’d leave three or four just short and low, and then I’d just hit one a little too hard and high; that happens,” he said.
“But if that’s what’s off in my game, that’s a lot better than anything else I can get that back on.”
His one poor shot was on 18, a blocked drive that almost ended up in the tented village, and he got too greedy trying to shoot for the green.
“Tomorrow we’re looking at rain, a different wind, and maybe par is a good score,” he continued. “Let’s find the middle of the greens here and see if we can get our putter into a rhythm. That will change.”
Day was losing his ball both ways on the front nine and had an altercation with the hill on the left at the Postage Stamp – scattering journalists who know it’s the best place to watch at Troon – before a second bogey on the 18th left him with a 73.
“I was missing it both ways,” said the World No 1. “Obviously when you’re confident with your swing, you can get up there and hit different shots but right now I’m trying to hit a certain shot and it’s coming out the opposite.”
Day made only two birdies – “that’s too low on a day like this where we have no wind and the course is very gettable” – but he thinks his grit can get him back.
“If I can just understand that the next few days are going to be very difficult, the scores are probably going to start coming back,” he reasoned.
“If I can just play good, solid golf and get the ball in front of me, I think I can inch my way back in.”
Johnson opened by carving his opening drive into thick rough and losing his ball for a bogey five, but from there he played tee to green just as Spieth had done, only to suffer the same torment on the greens.
Despite playing in the same conditions as Mickelson, miss after miss followed eight successive pars, and the US Open champion bogeyed the long 16th to limp in for a modest par 71.
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