Notes: McIlroy shines; Donald, Westwood falter

James Driscoll tees off on the first hole during the first round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.

James Driscoll tees off on the first hole during the first round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.

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• • •

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Though they brought into the 141st Open Championship the loftiest spots in the world order, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood also carried with them a bit of baggage.

Foiled in all of their attempts to win a major championship, Donald (No. 1) and Westwood (No. 3) had that thought weighing them down, plus the expectations of their home fans. As for McIlroy (No. 2), some shoddy play of late had included a missed cut at the U.S. Open, where he was defending his title, and the whispers talked of a crack in his impressive foundation.

Well, after 18 holes, consider it the ultimate mixed bag – some very good (McIlroy’s 67), some of it pedestrian (Donald’s 70), and some of it sloppy (Westwood’s 73).

Starting with Westwood, since he went out first, a birdie-birdie start “was sort of lie, really,” he said. “I don’t feel in control of the ball at the moment.”

To the turn in 1-under 33, Westwood bogeyed four of the last six holes and settled into a share of 99th.

Donald fared much better, though his only birdie on a very scoreable day came at the third hole. He gave that back hours later with a bogey at 18, having run off 14 consecutive pars in between.

As for McIlroy, he was playing beautifully, 3 under and threatening to go deeper when he pushed his drive at 15, saw his ball hit a spectator in the head and bounce out-of-bounds, and wound up giving two back to the field. If fans were harkening back to the U.S. Open, when McIlroy opened with a 77, they were reminded of the young man’s brilliant talent when he birdied the 16th, then the 18th to sign for 67, tied for sixth.

“An eventful last four holes, anyway,” said McIlroy, who has made the cut in each of his four starts in the Open Championship. “I thought I did well to keep my composure and keep my concentration and finish the way I did.”

It’s the fourth time in five Open Championships that McIlroy has opened with a sub-par round, and he seemed pleased with his position.

The same cannot be said for Donald and Westwood, clearly the class of an English contingent that numbers 21. But of that small army, only James Morrison (68, T-14), Matthew Baldwin (69, T-21), and Lee Slattery (69) broke par.

• • •

HE LOSES ROLL OF THE DICE: Surveying the overbooked Open Championship field, Ben Crane figured there wasn’t a very good chance of getting in. He would need a few players to withdraw to make his trip from the John Deere Classic worthwhile, and he opted to remain home in Oregon.

In hindsight, it was a bad choice.

Withdrawals by Robert Karlsson (no confidence in his game) late Wednesday and Russ Cochran early Thursday (back) opened up a spot to the first reserve; had Crane made the trip, it would have been him. Instead, Michael Thompson’s gamble paid off and the U.S. Open runner-up got to tee it up in Game 29, alongside Steven Alker and Lee Slattery.

Cochran, 53, cited a continuing problem with his back for his withdrawal. He withdrew after 36 holes of last week’s U.S. Senior Open and “I took Saturday and Sunday off and rehabbed.” But having won last year’s Senior Open Championship to earn just his second spot in an Open Championship (he missed the cut at Muirfield in 1992), Cochran was excited about the opportunity and decided to make a big family trip out of it, coming with his wife, his four children and a son’s girlfriend.

Unfortunately, the back didn’t cooperate. After hitting balls and playing 12 holes Wednesday, he chose not to push it. Instead, he walked the course early Thursday with some family members and pronounced himself “60 percent” for next week’s title defense at the Senior Open at Turnberry.

“I’m not happy about it,” Cochran said. “But I don’t want to do anything stupid.”

• • •

GOOD START, ROUGH DAY: If you’re going to set the alarm for 4 a.m. and tee off at 6:30, you might as well wake up with a 50-foot birdie putt.

James Driscoll handled that part flawlessly, his massive roll at the 205-yard, par-3 first allowing him to be the first to get into red numbers at the 141st Open Championship.

Of course, when you’re in the first game of the day, that’s not such a big deal. It’s what happened over the next eight holes that was more the story of Driscoll’s day. A triple bogey at the par-5 seventh, doubles at the par-4 third and par-3 ninth and three other bogeys added up to an outward 43.

Though he turned it around and came home in 33, the round of 76 left him 12 behind the leader.

Not very good, but Driscoll wasn’t about to blame the early start. Instead, blame it on the swing. “I was just fighting it,” Driscoll said. “Just kept double-crossing, trying to hit cuts, but I hit pull hooks.”

• • •

IT WASN’T ALL BAD NEWS: There were a few positives for Driscoll. First off, he and playing competitors Garth Mulroy and Barry Lane met the demands of R&A officials and played in less than 4 hours, 30 minutes.

“You don’t want to be the first group out and fall behind,” said Driscoll, conceding that the R&A’s mandate about strict pace of play weighed on his mind. “We were told we were a minute over early, but it was never an issue after that.”

Driscoll also made one of nine eagles on the day, his being the only one at the demanding 453-yard 17th. He holed a 9-iron from 159 yards.

There were three other eagles at par 4s – Nicolas Coelsarts at the second, Steve Stricker at 13 and Chez Reavie at 14.

The other eagles all came at the seventh, by Reavie, Keegan Bradley, Martin Laird, K.J. Choi and John Senden.

• • •

GOOD – AND BAD – WITH THE FLAT STICK: There was no secret to the 65 tossed down by 1999 Open Championship winner Paul Lawrie.

He needed just three putts over his first six holes, nine over nine, and 23 in all.

No surprise, Lawrie led the putting department, one better than Charl Schwartzel.

At the other end of the spectrum, Grant Veenstra needed 35 putts in his round of 77.

• • •

HOT TOPIC: As a last-minute addition to the field, Jeev Milkha Singh is certainly trying to take advantage.

Having won the Scottish Open in a playoff last Sunday to secure a late exemption, the 40-year-old from India birdied two of his first four holes to get off to a strong start. He survived a few bumps – a bogey at the par-5 seventh, a double at the par-4 13th – to shoot level-par 70.

Though he was destined to be well off the lead, he wasn’t being greedy. Quite the opposite. He’s thrilled to have a spot in his second Open Championship.

“I think it's fantastic and it's a joy for me,” he said. “I'm a very fortunate man to be playing this week after last week. And I'm just going to enjoy this week.”

Six times a winner on the European Tour and four times in Asia, Singh missed the cut at the Open Championship in 2007 at Carnoustie.

• • •

NOW THAT’S A FINISHING KICK: Having spent his practice rounds with fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, Matthew Baldwin figured he was prepared for his first-ever Open Championship.

But with three consecutive bogeys to start his outward nine, the 26-year-old was headed in the right wrong direction – at least until he birdied the 14th, 16th and 18th holes to post 1-under 69.

• • •

THE HOLE STORIES: The most difficult task was the 492-yard, par-4 sixth, which played to a field average of 4.538. There were twice as many double bogeys and "others" (14 in all) than birdies (seven) . . . No surprise, but the 592-yard seventh, especially dead downwind, played easiest. It yielded five eagles and 51 birdies for a field average of 4.756 . . . There was at least one double bogey on every hole, but the ugliest spot was the par-4 third, where 14 doubles and one “other” were recorded.

• • •

THIS ‘N THAT: One would have to surmise that Graeme McDowell has this first-round business figured out in the Open Championship. He posted 67 and in his last five efforts in this tournament, the man from Northern Ireland has averaged 68.6 . . . Michael Hoey didn’t make a birdie until the par-4 18th. Unfortunately, he already had made six bogeys and a pair of doubles, so he signed for a 79 . . . For instructor Sean Foley, it had to be serious mixed emotions as he watched two of his pupils in Game 18. While Tiger Woods performed brilliantly, Justin Rose (74) bogeyed five of the first eight holes and struggled mightily . . . John Daly gave his fans a wild roller-coaster ride. There were four birdies, but an ugly triple bogey at the par-4 sixth was mixed in with three bogeys led to a 72 . . . Teeing it up for the 26th consecutive time in an Open Championship, Mark Calcavecchia birdied three times coming home to shoot 71. It’s Calcavecchia’s fourth time at Lytham, but he has broken par just twice in 11 rounds . . . While some notable players struggle to earn spots into the Open Championship, Thongchai Jaidee is making his sixth start. He matched his best-ever opening round, a 69 . . . Of the 36 who broke par, 10 were Americans, a list that includes three who were playing their first-ever rounds in the Open Championship: Scott Pinckney and Justin Hicks at 68 and Ted Potter Jr. at 69 . . . If you’re thinking that Singh was low scorer from India, give yourself a bogey. That’s because Anirban Lahiri shot 2-under 68, two better than Singh.

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