July 16, 2008

Thursday's Winners And Losers

Bill Fields analyzes Thursday's golf and tells you who came out a winner and who ended up a loser

WINNERS

Rocco Mediate

How about shooting a one-under 69 to share the first-round lead as an encore for the Cinderfella who took Tiger Woods to the limit in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines? Mediate, who hasn't played in a British Open since 2002 and whose best finish is a T-18 in 1996, looked nothing like a contender over the opening holes. But the 45-year-old rallied mightily after being three-over through five holes, carrying the flag yet another day for all the middle-aged golfers who have battled back problems and wondered if their best days were behind them.

Greg Norman, David Duval, Tom Watson, Mark O'Meara and Tom Lehman

Led by Norman's throwback even-par 70 that left him T-4 and only a shot out of the first-round lead, this quintet of former British Open champions acquitted themselves quite nicely on a nasty day. Duval was next best, claret jug-owners-division, with a 73, while Watson, O'Meara and Lehman all shot 74 to lurk within striking distance. For all the cruelty the elements can dish out (see Losers, below), bad weather can also be an equalizer that rewards experience.

British Spectators

Thursday was by no means the worst day of weather in Open history (see first round, Turnberry 1986, for starters) but especially in the morning the combination of gusty winds and a cold rain made it pretty darn miserable. Even in the worst of the conditions, though, there were lots of fans on the course. The R&A announced an attendance of 36,500. That's a lot of Gore-tex covering a lot of folks who really love golf. "It's remarkable," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, "all the stalwarts that have been out there in this [weather]."

LOSERS

Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh

This marquee trio has combined for 107 career victories on the PGA and European tours, but barring a major miracle, the number won't be increasing this week. The three drew the worst of the weather with morning tee times and didn't beat the odds. Mickelson was six over after six holes en route to a 79. Els defied the conditions for much of his round, but was seven over on the last six holes to shoot a back-nine 45 and an 80, his worst score in 18 Opens. Singh also shot an 80. "It was just a miserable day," he said, summing up the conditions and his score.

Anyone playing into the teeth of the wind

A little power and a lot of luck went a long way on holes that were into the wind. And Craig Parry, who was in the day's first pairing at 6:30 a.m, said 16 holes played into the wind. The par-4 sixth (499 yards) was particularly brutish. No. 6 was the hardest hole on the course, playing to a 4.891 stroke average. The four birdies recorded on the hole were like eagles, the 38 pars like birdies.

Sandy Lyle

In contrast to the strong rounds by some other former winners, Lyle, the 1985 champion, didn't do himself proud by walking off the course when he was 11 over after 10 holes. Former winners deserve a spot in the championship, but there is a responsibility that goes with the privilege. After shooting a 45 on the outgoing nine and tacking on a par at the 10th, Lyle, 50, packed it in. He wasn't hurt and he wasn't sick. He said he was concerned about harming his game with the Senior British Open coming up in a couple of weeks. "I think professional golfers should complete their round," Dawson said. "That's what they're paid to do." Exactly.