Irish quartet face the cut as American giants go toe-to-toe
FOR all the talk of history, the 144th Open Championship bore remarkable similarities to the US Open played just a month earlier as Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth renewed their rivalry at St Andrews.
As he did at Chambers Bay, Johnson carded an opening 65 to claim the lead, with Spieth (pictured) this time a shot closer thanks to a five-under 67 which made a mockery of concerns about a lack of preparation in his bid for a third straight Major.
With the course initially defenceless before the wind strengthened, 1999 champion Paul Lawrie, England’s Danny Willett, Jason Day, Retief Goosen, Zach Johnson and Robert Streb all shot 66, with US Open runner-up and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen among those to match Spieth’s score.
Sweden’s David Lingmerth even raised hopes of the first 62 in Major history with a record-equalling front nine of 29, but Tiger Woods duffed his approach to the first into the Swilcan Burn and limped to a 76, his worst score as a professional in the Open at St Andrews.
However, attention was rightly focused on match 17, with Spieth chasing the third leg of an unprecedented calendar grand slam and Johnson trying to claim a first Major title after his latest near-miss.
Somewhat mischievously paired together by the R&A, the American duo matched each other almost shot for shot in covering the front nine in 31 and reaching six-under after 12.
Spieth proved he is human after all with bogeys on the 13th and 17th – where he found the famous Road Hole bunker – before holing a curling birdie putt from 20 feet on the last.
“I’m very pleased with the start,” said the 21-year-old, who is aiming to match Woods and Ben Hogan in winning three Majors in a season.
“I saw a 65 in our group and if DJ keeps driving it the way he is, then I’m going to have to play my best golf to have a chance.
“It’s hard to argue with somebody who’s splitting bunkers at about 380 yards and just two-putting for birdie on five or six of the holes. I don’t have that in the bag, but I’ve played enough golf with him to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has.
“I expect when he stands on the tee it’s going to be up there miles and down the fairway. I also expect that I can birdie each hole when I stand on the tee. It just happens to be a little different route.”
Spieth and Johnson took the same route to the green on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay, but while Spieth made birdie, Johnson three-putted from 12 feet to finish a shot behind.
“I think he played extremely well at Chambers. It’s not like he really messed up,” Spieth said. “It just was an unfortunate last hole for him. I certainly expect him to be a guy to beat every single time you play. He’s got as much talent or more than anybody. You just have to outplay him.”
Spieth’s decision to compete in the John Deere Classic last week and only arrive in St Andrews on Monday had been questioned, but the world number two had no such qualms.
“I wanted to come off a competitive tournament,” said Spieth, who won the tournament for the second time in three years. “I could have played the Scottish Open but I wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable playing and figured I could get in contention and feel the nerves, and that’s what happened.
Johnson insisted on Monday there were no mental scars after Chambers Bay and set out to prove his point with an eagle from six feet on the fifth and five birdies in a flawless round.
“Nothing bad happened at Chambers Bay, so I wasn’t disappointed, really,” the 31-year-old said. “I did everything I was supposed to. I couldn’t control what the ball was doing on the greens there.
“There’s really no bad feelings from that, only good. I played really well and then it carried over to today. Any time you shoot 65 it is very pleasing. I thought I played well today, I made two key par putts on 16 and 17.”
Meanwhile, was Paul Dunne who took the plaudits amongst the five-strong Irish contingent on day one with none of the four professionals breaking the par 72.
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell shot level-par 72s, one shot better than Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry.
Lowry had by far the most eventful day with early bogeys at the first and fourth leaving him some way off the early leaders.
However, he really got his round going around the turn with birdies at seven, nine, 10, 13 and 14 propelling him up the leaderboard.
Disaster struck, though, on the road hole as he carded a quadruple bogey before parring the last.
2011 champion Clarke, on the other hand, got off to a flying start picking up shots at the first and third holes, but bogeys at seven and 11 brought him back to level-par. He did return to minus figures with a birdie at 12, but suffered blips at 14 and 16 to finish one-over par.
Graeme McDowell, heartened by a decent performance at the Scottish Open last week, failed to find any birdies on his front nine, but his round really took off with birdies at 10 and 11, though he gave them back at 12 and 16 to finish seven off the lead at level-par.
He was alongside Padraig Harrington, whose birdies at 5, 6 and 12 were offset by bogeys at 3, 11 and 17.
Yesterday's leaderboard (Irish players in CAPITALS):
65 Dustin Johnson (USA)
66 Zach Johnson (USA), Retief Goosen (Rsa), Paul Lawrie, Danny Willett, Jason Day (Aus), Robert Streb (USA)
67 Kevin Na (USA), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Jordan Spieth (USA), Jordan Niebrugge (a) (USA)
68 Marc Warren, Matt Jones (Aus), David Howell, Greg Owen, Luke Donald
69 Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Dunne (a), Branden Grace (Rsa), David Lingmerth (Swe), Romain Langasque (a) (Fra), Anirban Lahiri (Ind)
70 Oliver Schniederjans (a) (USA), Steven Bowditch (Aus), Paul Kinnear (a), Webb Simpson (USA), Anthony Wall, Marc Leishman (Aus), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Adam Scott (Aus), Greg Chalmers (Aus), Marcel Siem (Ger), Stewart Cink (USA), Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Tyrrell Hatton, Phil Mickelson (USA), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Paul Casey, Alexander Levy (Fra)
71 Ross Fisher, Ryan Palmer (USA), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Graham Delaet (Can), John Daly (USA), Justin Rose, Ernie Els (Rsa), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Sandy Lyle, Kevin Kisner (USA), Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka (USA), Scott Arnold (Aus), Ashley Chesters (a), Matt Kuchar (USA), Bubba Watson (USA), James Morrison, Harris English (USA), Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn), Brett Rumford (Aus), Brendon Todd (USA), Cameron Tringale (USA)
72 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Charley Hoffman (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Pelle Edberg (Swe), David Duval (USA), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Mark O’Meara (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Eddie Pepperell, Rickie Fowler (USA), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Patrick Reed (USA), Richie Ramsay, Graeme McDowell, John Senden (Aus), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Hunter Mahan (USA), Andy Sullivan, Jamie Donaldson,Carl Pettersson (Swe), Russell Knox, Padraig Harrington
73 Koumei Oda (Jpn), Robert Dinwiddie, Matteo Manassero (Ita), Daniel Berger (USA), Danny Lee (Nzl), Shane Lowry, David Lipsky (USA), Billy Horschel (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jason Dufner (USA), Brian Harman (USA), Matt Every (USA), Darren Clarke, Gunn Yang (a) (Kor), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), J.B. Holmes (USA), Jim Furyk (USA), Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter, Morgan Hoffmann (USA), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Shinji Tomimura (Jpn)
74 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Joost Luiten (Ned), David Hearn (Can), Ben Curtis (USA), Todd Hamilton (USA), Ben Martin (USA), Scott Hend (Aus), Russell Henley (USA), Jonathan Moore (USA), Alister Balcombe (a), Marcus Fraser (Aus), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Bernhard Langer (Ger), Mark Young, George Coetzee (Rsa), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Ryan Moore (USA)
75 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Mikko Ilonen (Fin), Tadahiro Takayama (Jpn), Tom Lehman (USA), Jonas Blixt (Swe), Keegan Bradley (USA), Adam Bland (Aus), Romain Wattel (Fra), Bill Haas (USA), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), James Hahn (USA)
76 Tiger Woods (USA), Daniel Brooks, Tom Watson (USA), Taichi Teshima (Jpn), Tom Gillis (USA), Pablo Larrazabal (Spa), Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
77 Gary Boyd, Rod Pampling (Aus), Scott Strange (Aus)
78 Justin Leonard (USA), Kevin Streelman (USA)
79 Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa), Hiroshi Iwata (Jpn)
80 Mark Calcavecchia (USA), Liang Wen-Chong (Chn)
82 Ben Taylor (a)
83 Sir Nick Faldo