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Thursday, July 16, 2009
How low can they go at Turnberry?

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- There is no trusting the weatherman here, where it is not unusual to experience all four seasons in the span of a few hours.

But unless the good folks at the Open Championship want to see the Scottish version of the Bob Hope Classic break out along the cliffs of Turnberry, they are in dire need of a favorable forecast.

And by that we mean nastiness. Rain, cold, wind. Not in that order, but all at once.

Turnberry Golf Club
Turnberry was all sun and fun Thursday in Round 1 of the British Open. If the weather holds that way for the next few days, Greg Norman's record of 267 might be in jeopardy.

"The wind is supposed to blow a little bit more tomorrow and a little bit on Saturday and stronger on Sunday, so she's going to bare her teeth a little bit," said meteorologist, uh, tournament contender Tom Watson.

The five-time Open champion knows a bit about conditions in the United Kingdom. He's been coming to these parts for 35 years, winning the Claret Jug on five different venues and prevailing three more times at the senior version of the championship.

That at age 59 Watson turned back the clock and led for most of the first round before being overtaken by Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez is not as surprising as doing it in benign, benevolent conditions.

Watson can hang with the big boys when conditions are tough, when superior ballstriking is more important than distance and putting.

But on a day when everybody is going low?

"I'd take a chance in a howling gale," Watson said.

The prospects for that appear dim over the next three days, but what Mother Nature brings will have an undeniable impact on how the 138th Open Championship plays out.

Another day of shirt sleeves and nary a breeze will offer more clues that this Open Championship will be unlike the last.

When you look out and see the Ailsa Craig, framed by a hint of fog, and barely a ripple in the Firth of Clyde, the best players in the world -- for the most part -- are going to have their way.

A seaside links has other defenses such as high rough, tricky greens and strategically placed pins. But when the wind doesn't blow and the temperature doesn't plummet, look out.

Jimenez's 64 is just one off the major-championship record and ties the lowest opening round in Open Championship history.

The red numbers on the scoreboard Thursday were matched only by the number of red faces on pasty Brits in the gallery, who got a good dose of welcome sunshine and barely a breath of wind.

If we see the same kind of conditions into the weekend, there could be a slew of low numbers at the Open a year after blustery winds bruised and battered the world's top golf professionals.

"The course gave you some things today," said Watson, who would have become the oldest player to lead any round of a major championship since World War II had Jimenez not made a 66-foot bomb for birdie on the final hole. "It gave you some opportunities with lack of wind. They put the flags in difficult positions. It was hard to get to a lot of the flags, but without the wind, you still had some pretty good chances at it."

Jimenez's round led the assault which saw 50 players shoot in the 60s, easily surpassing the total of 21 for the entire tournament last year at windy Royal Birkdale. That championship saw Padraig Harrington win with a total of 3-over-par 283.

"The weather was perfect; it still is," said Mark Calcavecchia, 49, who won the Open 20 years ago up the road at Royal Troon and shot 67 during the first round. "There's no wind. ... I hate to say Turnberry was easy because it's a really hard course. But if you're going to shoot a good score out there, today is the day to do it."

That doesn't bode well for Tiger Woods, ranked No. 1 in the world and bidding for his fourth Open title and 15th major championship.

Woods, who has won three of nine times this year on the PGA Tour and tied for sixth at each of the previous two majors, shot a disappointing 1-over-par 71 that included a bogey-bogey-par-par finish. He was unable to take advantage of the nice day. He made just three birdies, needed 30 putts, and was tied for 68th.

"You could shoot a good round today," said Woods, who has an afternoon tee time on Friday. "You saw a lot of guys 3-, 4-, 5-under par. And that's what you could do out there today. The wind is down. If you get it in there, you can make some putts out there today, because obviously the wind is not really blowing yet."

Yet? It might not blow at all. Or at least not enough to be of consequence. Watson said he expected the breeze to pick up, although the forecast doesn't really suggest that tents will be rattling and teeth will be chattering.

Then again, there is a 60 percent chance of rain for each of the final three rounds, with highs in the low 60s.

"It was more like an American-style golf course today, with no wind," said Steve Stricker, who won the John Deere Classic on Sunday and opened at Turnberry with a 66. "Usually we have real firm conditions and wind and rain but we had none of that today. The course and greens are great."

A year after blustery winds bruised and battered the best players in the world, Greg Norman's record total of 267 -- set in 1993 at Royal St. George's -- might be in play.

"Whether the tournament record is in jeopardy, it's anybody's guess," Watson said. "Obviously it depends on the weather. And I think we're due for some wind. I think we're due for a blow. I doubt if we get the record this week."

It's doubtful it will snow here, too. But you never know.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.