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Mixed fortunes for Australasians at Royal Portrush

Ryan Fox created Open Championship history with his closing nine of 29 (Photo: Getty Images )
The saying goes you can’t win a golf tournament on day one, but you can certainly lose one and today, at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, there was plenty of justification of that.

Any of the 53 players at par or better can consider themselves very much in the thick of things as the field heads into tomorrow’s second round but for several of the leading pre-tournament fancies the championship appears over almost before it has begun.

Rory McIlroy (79) and Adam Scott and Tiger Woods (78) were players some felt worthy of consideration to challenge for the title this week but, if they were to do so now, they would need a comeback worthy of Lazarus.

While the conditions were demanding enough, that those 53 players who equalled, or bettered, the par of 71, suggests the course was playable enough but for those who have shot themselves in the foot with an opening day disaster they will be gutted by a missed opportunity.

The man who in many people’s eyes was the man to beat this week, McIlroy, was in trouble from the moment he hit his first tee shot, hitting an iron out of bounds from the tee and taking six with his second ball for an opening quadruple bogey.

After dropping another shot at the turn, he so valiantly fought his way back to be just 3 over par at the turn and with just three holes to play was still at that score. Then, however, would come a bogey at 16 and a triple bogey at the last, book-ending his round with a quadruple and triple bogey.

Even his chances of making it to the weekend to ensure the countless countrymen and women who have flocked to the north of his home country get to see more of him would seem a daunting task but McIlroy does not necessarily see it that way.

“I definitely think if I can hit it in the fairway tomorrow I think I can be around for the weekend,” he said in a brave post-round interview. “I am pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 doesn’t think about winning but if I can go out and shoot something in the mid-sixties and be around for the weekend and then try to play good from there.”

Woods was out in 41 and dropped two more shots before his only birdie of the day same with a 20 footer at the 15th. He would, though, drop another shot at the last and at 7 over he, too, needs a round in the 60’s tomorrow to be around for Saturday.

Scott double-bogeyed the second hole but bounced back immediately with a birdie at the third but that was the only real highlight of an otherwise disappointing effort from a golfer whose record at the Open Championship in recent years has been one of the more consistent in the game and who had been playing well for much of the year to date.

The fact that he had not play a tournament round in over a month might well have counted against him as might the decision to return to the short putter after success with the longer one in recent starts.

34 putts again told the story of struggles on the green but it was a disappointing day all round for the Australian although it might be that the longer putter returns tomorrow.

Of the other Australians and New Zealanders in the field, Ryan Fox did best with a stunning reversal from his outward nine of 39, birdies at six of his last seven holes for a homeward nine of 29, an Open Championship record, completing a round of 68 and a share of 3rd place.

Jason Day and Cameron Smith are doing best of the Australians thus far at 1 under par and in a share of 20th place.

Day missed half the fairways and a similar number of greens but he putted well today with just 25 putts and dropped only one shot during his round, that coming at the last.

Like Day, Smith would record only one bogey, that coming at his very first hole, but he would birdie the second and 10th holes and has made a solid start to his just his third Open Championship in which he has a previous best of 78th.

Open Championship debutante Jake McLeod had 76, Marc Leishman 78 and Dimi Papadatos 83.

Amongst those who fared considerably better, however, the leader is the powerful J.B. Holmes who, although missing the cut in five of his previous nine appearances at the Open Championship did display a capacity to handle British golf well when 3rd at the 2016 Open Championship.

He would bogey the first today but that was his only blemish in a round of 66 and he leads by one over Shane Lowry with another shot back to a group of 12 players at 3 under 68 including one of the pre-tournament favourites, world number one and winner of four major championships in the last two years, Brooks Koepka.

Having not made the weekend in six of his last seven starts this represents a significant turnaround for Holmes. He did win earlier in the year at the Genesis Open however and as a five-time winner on the PGA Tour he is a well credentialed player.

Despite his lack of recent form his impressive start is not quite the surprise to him that it might be to others.

“I was very confident going in,” said the leader. “I felt like I was hitting it really well and we had a good plan, a good line on the golf course.

“You don't expect to shoot that, but I'm not surprised.”

 

          

 

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