Zach Johnson sets pace with 66

Updated: July 18, 2013, 5:39 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

GULLANE, Scotland -- So much for all the good feelings about Muirfield. The historic venue in Scotland and host to a 16th Open Championship left plenty of the world's best grumbling during the first round on Thursday, even though more than a dozen players were under par.

American Zach Johnson leads with a 5-under-par 66 and was followed by Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who shot 67, as well as 1998 Open champion Mark O'Meara, whose eagle at the 17th propelled the 56-year-old to within a shot of the lead.

Jordan Spieth, a 19-year-old from Dallas who is coming off his first PGA Tour victory at last week's John Deere Classic, carded three birdies and a bogey in his Open Championship debut to finish at 2-under 69.

Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker were positioned nicely after 68s.

Tiger Woods came on strong at the end to finish in a group of six at 2-under 69, and Shiv Kapur was two shots off the lead. Kapur, a 31-year-old from India who plays on the Asian Tour, actually led for a while after making birdies on six of the first seven holes, turning with a dazzling 30. A double-bogey at the 10th knocked him back.

And even though Phil Mickelson three-putted the last hole, he also shot 69 to get onto the first page of the leaderboard just four days after winning the Scottish Open. Lefty was among several who questioned the course conditions on a breezy but otherwise rather benign day by Open Championship standards.

"Very difficult conditions and playing early gave us at least a fighting chance," Mickelson said. "But the R&A [which runs the tournament] have to let go of their egos sometimes and just set the course up the way that the best players can win."

Angel Cabrera and Todd Hamilton were among those at 2 under.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion who lost in a playoff on Sunday at the John Deere Classic to Jordan Spieth, managed to get around with just a single bogey and had four birdies and an eagle.

"Very pleased. It was a very solid day. I felt great," Johnson said. "Any time you shoot under par in an Open or a major, for that matter, you have to be putting at least somewhat decent, and I putted great. All in all, very solid, but it's just one round."

Johnson, who has nine victories on the PGA Tour, said he quickly put the playoff defeat behind him.

"If anything, I've embraced the fact that I'm playing great, and I can put that into play and I can put that into what I'm doing," Johnson said. "And I'm certainly confident in what I'm doing. That's what I'm trying to remember about last week. If anything, there's certainly more positives last week than negatives."

There was plenty of negative discussion on Thursday about the course, a day after R&A chief Peter Dawson declared: "The course is just as we want it. It's hard. It's fast. It's in wonderful condition. The rough is just right. I think the players are all enjoying it."

Well, not all of them.

"Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions," Ian Poulter tweeted after shooting 72. "8th hole is a joke. 18 needs a windmill & clown face."

Mickelson remarked that the course would have been "unplayable" if the wind had been blowing.

"I think both the players and tournament committee were excited about the conditions because of how firm the golf course is playing," he said. "And I think they wanted a little bit more wind, but there's enough wind that it's challenging to maneuver shots. You have to hit shots to accommodate the wind, to get the ball coming into the greens at the right angles and stuff."

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion who was grouped with Woods and Graeme McDowell, and Peter Hanson withdrew during the round.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was 4 over through eight holes when he pulled out after teeing off on No. 9. The South African says "as the round progressed, the pain in my neck translated into my hips and I found it increasingly uncomfortable to walk."

Oosthuizen withdrew from last month's U.S. Open at Merion after the first round, citing a hip problem.

Hanson, a Swede who played for Europe at last year's Ryder Cup, lasted just five holes before pulling out with a back injury that had troubled him before the tournament. He was 2 over par.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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