The Open isn't supposed to be easy

GULLANE, Scotland -- The tweet popped up not long after Ian Poulter finished his first round of the Open Championship.

Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face.

Then Phil Mickelson, only a few minutes removed from his opening round, fired up the chainsaw, suggesting that the R&A should "let go of [its] ego ... and just set the course up the way the best players can win." He added that the "greens are dying and the holes are on the edges of slopes that the ball just simply won't stay."

Zach Johnson said the Muirfield fairways were as fast as the greens, and the greens, tweeted Stewart Cink, "are the fastest I've seen in the Open."

Anyway, there were bloodstains on more than a few scorecards Thursday. There also were anger, pained looks and complaints.

Isn't it great?

Paul Cunningham/USA TODAY Sports

Ian Poulter didn't like how Muirfield was set up for Round 1. He wasn't alone. But did he have a point?

Nothing personal, but I don't care if Poulter and Mickelson think the setup is unfair. I don't care if they put a windmill, a clown face and a circus tent over the 18th green. I don't care if R&A officials put a pin on the roof of the Muirfield clubhouse.

A major is a major because it makes you mutter under and over your breath. It's supposed to hurt  -- especially this one and at this place.

They say Muirfield is the fairest of the courses used in the Open Championship rotation. This is true. But that doesn't mean it can't leave teeth marks on your round. Or make you wonder how anything so beautiful -- and Muirfield is the Sofia Vergara of pure golf -- can secretly move your Open Championship hopes to an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.

Rory McIlroy putted a ball from off the green, through it and then into a bunker.

Charl Schwartzel excommunicated a club after squirting a ball out of the Muirfield rough. The poor iron snapped in two after Schwartzel hurled it against the driveway-hard turf.

Luke Donald shot a 9-over-par 80, which ties his worst Open score. The on-site engraver won't need to practice those L's.

Muirfield isn't lush, and it isn't fun. Brown is becoming the prevailing color, what with the sun (Sun! In Scotland!) cooking this place like a pot roast. The grandstands are green, but that's about it. The rest of the course looks as if it spent the week in a tanning bed.

A few days ago, R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson said the setup was the best of the past 14 Opens.

"I think the players are enjoying it," he said.

Mickelson didn't enjoy it. And he shot a 2-under-par 69.

Poulter didn't enjoy it. And he shot a 1-over-par 72.

McIlroy didn't enjoy it, but he's not enjoying much of anything these days. He shot 79, but he blamed himself, not Muirfield or the setup.

Muirfield did what it's supposed to do: reward good shots, penalize indifferent ones and absolutely crush poor ones. Were a couple of the pin positions straitjacket nuts? Possibly, but so what?

"Very testing, very tough," Dawson said of the greens during a BBC interview. "I guess it's the Open Championship."

I guess it is, and I hope it stays that way. Majors are all about raising the perspiration level. They're supposed to mess with your mind.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

There were tough shots at Muirfield on Day 1. But the place wasn't impossible -- just look at the scores.

Poulter, in a later tweet, dialed down the post-round frustration. Good for him, because it wasn't Muirfield's fault that he bogeyed three of the last four holes.

And it wasn't as if the leaderboard didn't have any red numbers on it. Truth is, it looked as though it had been splattered with ketchup packs.

Johnson leads the tournament at 5 under. Mark O'Meara, who spends most of his time playing Champions Tour events, is at 4 under. He has company.

Another oldie, 1996 Open Championship winner Tom Lehman, is part of a group at 3 under. Todd Hamilton, who won at Troon in 2004 and then missed six of the next eight Open cuts, is part of the 2-under-par crowd with Mickelson, Tiger Woods and 19-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is making his first Open appearance.

Players -- newbies, geezers, stogie smokers (Miguel Angel Jimenez) -- were able to score. In the morning. In the afternoon (but, admittedly, not as often). Muirfield didn't have a problem patting you on the back if you deserved it.

There will be more complaints Friday, which is OK. It wouldn't be a major without someone getting his shorts in a bunch.

And it wouldn't be an Open Championship unless the fairways and greens were, as they call them here, "fiery." That's another way of saying, "near death."

Friday will be fun -- not for the players but for us. How can you not love greens as hard as sewer covers? Rough as clingy as socks out of a dryer? Shifting winds from the Firth of Forth?

Muirfield -- and the Open Championship -- is about golf survival, not happy faces. So far, the frowns are in the lead.

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