Young leads, Rory lurks, Tiger struggles + six other first day talking points from St Andrews

The opening round of the 150th Open Championship is in the books and what an absorbing day it was at St Andrews.

American Cameron Young took advantage of the calmer morning conditions to sign for a pace-setting 64 but has Rory McIlroy and another Cameron, the Aussie variety with the surname Smith, nipping at his heels. It was a tough afternoon and early evening for Tiger Woods which makes Friday’s second round unmissable as this could be the final time we see the Big Cat compete on the Old Course.

Enjoy our daily wrap from the final major of the year in easily digestible, snack-sized bites. Here goes:

Rookie Wonder

Cameron Young first played the Old Course in 2010 as a 13-year-old on a golfing pilgrimage to Scotland with his father David, a long-time pro at New York’s famed Sleepy Hollow. If Cameron “recalls correctly”, Dad had to ask permission to play off the back tees.

“So when we came out to hit our first tee shots with the R&A building right there, there were a bunch of R&A members presumably watching. And I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m sure I would have been nervous out of my mind.”

Fast-forward to Thursday at the 150th Open and Young Jnr showed few signs of nerves as he compiled an opening 64 to snare the first round lead by two strokes from Rory McIlroy – not too shabby in just your sixth major championship start and Open debut.

We shouldn’t be overly surprised by the name atop the leaderboard. Remember Young, who graduated to the PGA Tour this year courtesy of a two-win 2021 on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour, finished third at the PGA Championship, just a stroke shy of joining Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris in a playoff at Southern Hills.

Young is in contention for rookie of the year honours on the PGA Tour courtesy of four top-three finishes but the world No.32 isn’t content because he hasn’t won. He’s given himself a perfect start at St Andrews but it also realistic.

“I’m happy I shot 64. I’m happy that, as far as I know, I’m still leading The Open Championship, but it’s not going to change how I feel an hour from now,” he said.

Taking advantage of the benign morning conditions, Young went out in 31 and when he drove over the green on the par-4 12th, chipped back and holed his birdie putt, a record St Andrews scored looked possible. But this is not only golf (the hardest game off all) but links golf (which can be even harder still). Young three-putted for par on the 14th, watched a birdie chance on 15 spin out of the cup and missed another good chance from 15 feet on the 16th.

“You could play every day here for a year and you would just scratch the surface of what you can know about this place. There’s so many humps and bounds and little nuances to the golf course that we could never know in the four or five days that I’ve had to prepare.”

Still, Young can grasp at history. Courtesy of the excellent blog, every winner at St Andrews has been within three shots of the lead after the opening round since 1939. If history is to be repeated, that’s great news for Young and…

Rory poised, Smith too

Rory McIlroy, as he is so oft want to do, made golf look easy on Thursday with just a solitary bogey in his ominous opening 66. But don’t be fooled, insists the 2014 Open champion.

“It never feels easy,” he said. “There’s just little parts of the round that it sort of shows you where you’re at with everything and mentally, physically. I came through those little tests today unscathed. I’m really proud of that.”

He has ever right to feel chuffed with a round book ended with threes and five other birdies. It conjured memories of his record-tying 63 to open the 2010 Open, the last time he teed it up in the oldest major at the Home of Golf (an ankle injury picked up playing football prevented him from playing the 2015 Open).

History remembers a second round of 80 in 2010 but this is a more mature, refined version of McIlroy, albeit a player still vulnerable to mini scorecard meltdowns. There will be many more tests of character to come for McIlroy this week as he attempts to add a fifth major to his legacy and a first since 2014 at Hoylake. But with the galleries willing him on, perhaps the Northern Irishman can end his major drought in historic surrounds.

A maiden major seems only a matter of time for Cameron Smith. The Aussie is tied third with Robert Dinwiddie after an opening 67 and like McIlroy, suffered only one bogey Thursday.

With his short game and putting, don’t discount the 28-year-old Players champion. As South African commentator Dale Hayes said, mastery with the flat stick is critical on the Old Course as “it’s like putting in a rumbled duvet”.

Who the heck is Robert Dinwiddie?

Born in Scotland but English by sporting nationality, Robert Dinwiddie was one of the inevitable mystery names on the front page of the leaderboard as the light faded over St Andrews on Thursday.

Thriving in the relatively benign late afternoon/early evening conditions, the 39-year-old world No. 1779 signed for a five-under 67 that would have been even more impressive but for a dropped shot on the 16th.

Dinwiddie is a former Welsh, Scottish and English amateur stroke play champion and has won three times on the Challenge Tour but not since 2010. This is just a fifth major championship start and he has a shot to make the cut for a second time following his T36 finish at the 2008 U.S. Open.

An Amateur is in contention

How about the start from English amateur Barclay Brown? Out in the second group of the day and casually sporting a camouflage bucket hat, the 21-year-old Stanford economics student compiled a 68 to headline the eight-way tie for eighth place on -4.

This is just the qualifier’s second visit to St Andrews following a round with his family at age nine or 10. The ambiguity is because he doesn’t remember the childhood loop at all.

“They used to do a thing in like January or February where you could play the Old Course so we came up as a family and played. I don’t really remember playing it at all … I probably shot in the millions. (Today) I was unbelievably nervous at the start and once I got through the first couple of holes it was nice to calm down a little bit and just get into it. I want to play the best I can and I want to win the Silver Medal (for low amateur).”

Next best of the six amateurs in the field is fellow Englishman Sam Bairstow and Japan’s Keita Nakajima who are T56 after an even-par 72s. UAE fans will recall Nakajima, the current World Amateur Golf Rankings No.1, winning the  Asia-Pacific Amateur at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club last November.

Rebel Yell

With frontman Greg Norman not welcome at the pre-event festivities and his breakaway players snubbed in the media centre and handed unfavourable tee times and less than stellar groupings, the 150th Open hasn’t been a comfortable place for LIV Golf rebels.

Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch seem to have taken it personally if their 68s are any evidence. The -4 score was matched by world No.1 Scottie Scheffler who was impressive in a later start.

Ian Poulter got the bit between his teeth too after being booed in the first tee and then almost hooking it out-of-bounds on the widest fairway in the universe. The Englishman recovered to sign for a 69, a score shared by  Bryson DeChambeau who is going to drive himself to distraction unless he realises putting on the Old Course is an art, not a science.

Elsewhere Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed finished even while Brooks Koepka at +1 and Sergio Garcia at +3 have much work to do to make the cut. They’ll be doubly determined to do so with reports that LIV players will be banned from all four majors next year. R&A CEO Martin Slumbers (pictured below) insists The Open will always be open but warned the governing body was set to review its exemptions and qualifications criteria for the Open.

“We have been asked quite frequently about banning players. Let me be very clear. That’s not on our agenda,” Slumbers said. “What is on our agenda is that we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for The Open. Players have to earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal.”

It is understood the avenue the R&A is exploring is to exclude any player suspended from one of golf’s traditional tours, as the PGA Tour has done. The other majors could close ranks by following suit.

“We will hold totally true to the Open being open to anybody. But we may well look at how you get into that, whether it’s an exemption or a need to qualify through our qualifying process.”

Introducing (sort of) “Tom” Kim 

The TV commentators waxed lyrical about Joohyung Kim’s 69, bringing to global attention what followers of the Asian Tour have long known. The 20-year-old South Korean has serious game, a swing so compact he could flush it within the confines of one of those old-school British telephone boxes.  The shame for Kim was back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17 and a mere par on 18 but keep tabs on “Tom” (as in Thomas the Tank Engine) Kim who won the Asian Tour money list last season. Watch also for Sadom Kaewjanjana. The Thai carded a one-under 71 and is one of the fastest players on the planet.

Rolling back the Clock

How cool was it to see Pádraig Harrington, the 2007 and 2008 Open Champion and freshly-minted U.S. Senior Open champion, sign for a 69? That’s the beauty of linksland golf where even the over 50s can keep up with the young guns in the firm and fast conditions. Talking of things of beauty, Ernie Els’ rolled back the years with that silky swing of his to shoot 70. The 52-year-old South African, a two-time Open champion, shares 27th place in a group including leading Scottish hope, Robert “Bob” MacIntyre.

Not out of it but work to do

Defending champion Collin Morikawa is one of three “Champion Golfer(s) of the Year” who will need to keep tabs on the leaderboards Friday after opening with a 72. Shane Lowry and Zach Johnson, who won last time out at St Andrews in 2015, are the others on even par and potentially flirting with the cut, alongside the likes of Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas and Matt Fitzpatrick (who looked to hurt his wrist with a late shot out of the fescue). Former world No.1 Jon Rahm and majors nearly man Will Zalatoris have even more work to do after signing for 73s.

Tiger’s Old Course trial and tribulations

We all hoped Tiger Woods could somehow thumb his nose to Father Time and fused backs and car accidents and compete in this historic Open at St Andrews in what is just his third official start of the year. But the 2000 and 2005 Old Course conquerer drove it into a fat divot on he 1st, collected his next slightly heavy and watched the approach plonk into the Swilcan burn hugging the front of the green en-route to a deflating double bogey. Despite back-to-back birdies on 9 and 10 and another gain on the par-4 14th, Woods was unable to get anything going on the greens and signed for a 78. There are only seven players beneath the +6 Woods including former champions Darren Clarke (+7), David Duval (+10) and Mark Calcavecchia (+11).

“It was probably the highest score I could have shot,” admitted Woods, who is tied for 146th place. “Didn’t get off to a great start and I wasn’t very good on the greens. Every putt I left short. The greens were very firm but slow. It’s an interesting combo and I struggled.

“It was a lot easier today, physically, than it has been the other two [majors this year], for sure. This was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it. And I am. And just didn’t do a very good job of it.

Woods is out at 9.58am on Friday (12.58pm UAE time) in what shapes as his final competitive round at St Andrews. Unless, of course, the Big Cat can produce something truly special. Either way, you wouldn’t want to miss it.

“Looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to have a chance [of making the cut]. So obviously it has been done. Guys did it today. And that’s my responsibility tomorrow is to go ahead and do it. Need to do it.”

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