If major championships went as expected, the leaderboard would look as it does right now at the British Open.
To ease your anxiety, Tiger Woods took advantage of a soft front nine and made the turn at four under, but his putter came up short on the back nine and he posted a 67, three shots off the blistering pace set by Adam Scott with a 64.
Woods will be the buzz, even if Scott’s eight-birdie effort left him just one shot off the record for lowest round in a major. That’s what happens in the global obsession with Woods, somebody Scott was stacked up against early in his career.
Scott hasn’t lived up to that fanfare, but he does have eight PGA Tour wins despite a two-year funk that he needed to climb out of before winning the 2010 Texas Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Scott became the 10th consecutive first time major winner, but he’s in tough with Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Steve Stricker also within three shots.
Those are the marquee names that fans will expect to challenge Woods over Scott, despite what the leaderboard says. There’s also a nagging suspicion that not enough credit is being given to a trio who came in with 65s.
Zach Johnson has a major after slipping on the green jacket in 2007, but his nice guy image leads to him being unfairly and unwisely overlooked, even if he could jump ahead of Woods for Player of the Year if he adds the Open Championship to his two PGA Tour wins this year.
Also unfair is that Scotland’s Paul Lawrie is often a sidebar to Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown at the 1999 Open Championship that he won. Lawrie also won the Qatar Masters, one of five top-five finishes on the European Tour this year.
Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium won this year’s Volvo World Match Play Championship and was a U.S. Open contender at the tough Olympic Club until a final round 76. Putting it together over four holes is his next hurdle to clear and he’s on his way.
Also not to be overlooked is Brandt Snedeker, who shot a 66 and has tour wins in each of his past two seasons and four top-20 finishes in majors the past three seasons, although he struggles at the British Open.
For now they’ll have the luxury of toiling in relative obscurity compared to the big names around them, but if they add consistency to their smoking first rounds, that will change quickly, as will the pressure.
CHANGING IT UP
Woods, among other players, said he was surprised by the benign conditions for most of his morning round, but added he expected different tests as the Open Championship continues, after seeing the wind change direction during his practice rounds.
If Woods is correct, the 206 bunkers and rough that makes the ball disappear (see Phil Mickelson below) will still be factors, but a golf course softened by recent rain lessened their impact and provided stellar scoring conditions.
The wind picked up and there was some afternoon drizzle, but players were using more loft around the greens than usual and the greens got slower as the day progressed. Isolated showers were expected overnight and into Friday, which will soften it even more.
Earlier in the week, David Duval talked about the difference between the baked and brown Royal Lytham and St. Annes he faced in 2001, when he won his one and only major, and now.
“There’s pictures, when I was hitting it into the last green on Sunday, you see spots of green — you don’t see green everywhere like you do now. It played faster and firmer,” he said.
“It’s just that I don’t necessarily think the golf ball is going to end up where it did in the past because it’s not as fast,” said Duval.
Mickelson’s scores on Nos. 7 and 8 had the same effect as the triple bogey in his first round at the Masters. His tee shot put him in the left rough on No. 7, then a mighty swipe put him in the right rough before taking double bogey. On the next hole, he took bogey after putting his tee shot into a bunker, then into the thick grass above it, where he needed an unplayable before a bogey. He finished with a 73. The double on No. 7 was particularly damaging since it came on one of only two par-5s ... Should Johnson go on to win, he would become the 11th player to win a major after a victory the week before. Johnson won the John Deere Classic last week before heading overseas. Woods is the last player to do it after winning the 2007 PGA Championship after taking the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. The year before that, Mickelson won the Masters after taking the BellSouth Classic. The last player to win just before the British Open was Lee Trevino, who won the 1971 Canadian Open ... Success on the closing holes will be critical for the eventual champion, but they’ll also be an important factor in who will lose. Ryo Ishikawa can attest to the effect of the closing string of six par-4s. He arrived at one under, parred No. 13, but bogeyed the five closing holes to finish with a four-over 74.