Sunny Muirfield showing plenty of bite at the Open
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- Another sunny day along the Scottish coast. Another perilous test on the links of Muirfield.
Zach Johnson headed into the second round of the British Open with a one-shot lead Friday, the first time he's been atop the leaderboard at any major since he rallied to win the Masters six years ago.
The weather has been unseasonably warm and dry, the fearsome wind not much more than a gentle breeze, and it was expected to stay that way through the weekend. Even so, there weren't many chances for going low, not on a course that is more brown than green, with pin conditions that some players complained were downright unfair.
Even though he opened with a 2-under 69, Phil Mickelson was concerned about some hole locations being too close to the edge of slopes. He pleaded with the Royal & Ancient to let go of its ego and "just set the course up the way the best players can win."
Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion, said he's played in much tougher conditions, perhaps emboldened by a 67 that left him just one stroke behind Johnson. But the course bit back on Friday, sending the 56-year-old tumbling off the leaderboard. A bogey at the third, a lost ball at No. 6 that led to double-bogey, another bogey at the eighth.
Just like that, O'Meara was back to even par.
Others were faring better. Darren Clarke, the surprise winner at Royal St. George's two years ago, made three straight birdies in the early going to get to 2 under. This was another potential shocker, considering Clarke has only one top-10 finish since capturing the claret jug and has plummeted to No. 437 in the world rankings.
Johnson had an afternoon tee time after starting with a 66, taking advantage of kinder conditions Thursday morning. He was helped along by a 45-foot eagle putt and made only one bogey, despite trouble lurking around every pot bunker.
"Anytime you shoot under par in an Open -- or a major, for that matter -- you have to be putting at least somewhat decent," Johnson said. "And I putted great. I made some nice birdie putts and obviously that one for eagle. But I struck some really nice, solid par putts. That's what you've got to do to stay in it."
Tiger Woods more than survived the late end of the draw in the opening round, after the sun had thoroughly baked out the crispy greens and allowed only eight of the 20 rounds under par. He knocked one putt clear off the green, but 10 one-putts -- most of them for pars -- carried him to a 69, a good start in his bid to end his five-year drought in the majors.
"The golf course progressively got more dried out and more difficult as we played," Woods said. "I'm very pleased to shoot anything even par or better."
He hoped to have an easier time of it on Friday, when going out in the morning should provide more chances for scoring.
It was an eclectic group setting the early pace, from major champions to players making their British Open debut. What they all had in common was finding a way to get through a firm, fast and frightening setup that figures to get even harder if the R&A doesn't put some water on the course.
"I haven't seen anything like this," said Brandt Snedeker, among those who opened with a 68. "I've played in, I think, five Opens. This is completely new to me -- foreign to see a 2-iron going 300 yards. You have got to be wary of how you're shaping your golf ball, and what shot selections you're using on the greens."
Just last weekend, Johnson lost in a playoff at the John Deere Classic after making bogey on the final hole of regulation. Nineteen-year-old Jordan Spieth captured the title, becoming the youngest PGA Tour winner since 1931 and earning a trip across the Atlantic.
The youngster was sure taking advantage of it. He made only one bogey Thursday on the way to a 69, and kept up his steady play with seven straight pars to start the second round.
Then there's Rory McIlroy, who looks as though he'll get the weekend off. He struggled to a 79 in the opening round, his highest score at the Open since that 80 in the vicious wind of St. Andrews in 2010.
At least he had some company.
Luke Donald, another former No. 1 player in the world, shot 80. Nick Faldo celebrated his 56th birthday with a 79 on the links where he won two of his three claret jugs.
Ninety-eight players in the 156-man field had at least a double-bogey on their scorecards after Day 1. Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover might have summed it up best when he took to Twitter after opening with an 80.
"Muirfield 1, Me 0."
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