Thursday, July 19, 2012
Lytham laid bare in opening act
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- The most mournful, depressing words seen Thursday at the Open Championship:
Dry with bright or sunny spells developing.
That was the afternoon forecast at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Worse still, the morning weather was even nicer.
The Open Championship is supposed to be a four-day weather wedgie, the rainsuit capital of golf. You're supposed to leave here with windburn and with mud caked to your cleats. You're supposed to see whitecaps on the nearby Irish Sea.
Instead, we got Palm Springs. The only thing missing was an umbrella drink.
Where's the sideways rain? The stands full of umbrellas? The muddied walkways? Royal Lytham failed miserably at providing misery in the first round of the Open Championship.
Adam Scott is 6 under. After the first round. I thought 5 or 6 under was going to win the Open Championship, not be the low score on Thursday.
Scott had a chance to shoot 62, which would have been the lowest score ever recorded in a major championship. He settled for 64 and his first lead in a major. That wouldn't have happened if the English weather had held up its end of the deal.
Scotland's Paul Lawrie, considered a mudder, shot a 5-under-par 65 in the dry stuff. Lawrie won the 1999 Open Championship and hasn't shaken hands with the top 10 in a major since. Huh?
Zach Johnson and Nicolas Colsaerts finished with a 65. Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, among others, shot 67s. Woods had a 30 on the front nine.
"It was kind of weird standing out there on about the ninth tee box looking around in shirtsleeves at guys being 4, 5 and 6 under par," said McDowell, who was among 36 players to break par Thursday. "It was a pretty benign start to the week."
Benign? Try disappointing. It was so gentle a day, so shockingly nice, that the fish and chips vendors here could have broken par. And that's the problem.
"It was pretty soft," said Woods, trying to notch his first major win since 2008. "The wind wasn't blowing, and we're backing balls up. That's something we just don't see."
If we're lucky, we won't see it again. After all, the U.K. has been underwater most of the summer. Then along comes the Open Championship and the rain goes on holiday? The winds decide to watch this one from the living room couch?
Sadly, the forecast is favorable for the remainder of the tournament. Then again, there was supposed to be a deluge here Wednesday and nothing happened.
"But the forecast hasn't been right all week," Woods said. "Nice job to have, huh?"
If not for Royal Lytham & St. Annes' 205 bunkers and the haystack rough, the Open Championship would be waving a white flag. But every so often, it would wipe the suntan lotion off and snap a towel at a player.
Which brings us to Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson needed Dr. Phil as much as he needed swing coach Butch Harmon on Thursday. He was a mess at times, spending long stretches in the rough looking for his shots.
He thought about taking an unplayable lie in the left rough on the par-5 seventh hole, but instead turned sideways and punched out to -- wait for it -- the right rough.
"Sit! Sit!" he pleaded. Then it disappeared. "Are you kidding me?"
Mickelson finished with a double-bogey, then moved to the par-4 eighth. At one point, a search party of eight was looking for his shot out of a fairway bunker. The searchers were down on their hands and knees, as if they were planting corn.
Mickelson found his ball -- in the face of the dune/rough right above the bunker. He was lucky to walk away with a bogey.
Nothing against Mickelson, but that's the kind of golf suffering we expected to see. Hoped to see. The bunkers and the rough can't do all the work. In fact, Mickelson birdied No. 10 and finished at 3-over 73.
For the Open Championship to resemble, well, an Open Championship, it needs help. The wind kicked up a tiny bit in the afternoon, but not enough to muss up Rory McIlroy's curly hair. The clouds stopped by, but only as observers -- a few sprinkles, but not one crummy downpour. And sure, the temperature dropped a little, but it wasn't as if you required a space heater.
"The weather obviously dictates how you feel and how you play," Lawrie said. "And today was a perfect day."
Perfect stinks. Perfect isn't fun. Not here. Not in a major.
"I'm under no illusion that this golf course has teeth, though, and there could be a bit of a breeze across this course," McDowell said. "It could be a sleeping giant, for sure."
Royal Lytham & St. Annes had its dentures out Thursday. And the weather took an Ambien.
Time for this place -- and this Open -- to get back its bite and its bad mood. The sooner, the better.