SANDWICH, England – Kyle Stanley was bound for the PGA Tour event in Mississippi after last week’s John Deere Classic. A runner-up finish led to a changed itinerary, and good play led to a spot on the British Open leaderboard.
It wasn’t until Sunday that Stanley earned his British Open berth by being the top Deere finisher not already exempt to Royal St. George’s. Stanley had his passport with him, but no warm clothes. He had to buy a long-sleeved shirt in the British Open merchandise center. Long sleeves aren’t necessary in Mississippi in July.
He may have been short on clothes, but not on game. Stanley’s first-round 68 at Royal St. George’s left him three shots back of Thomas Bjorn. Stanley didn’t know until he finished the Deere that he was in the field. He thought he had to win to earn the Open spot, but he actually only had to finish in the top five.
“I didn’t expect to be here, but now I am. I just hope I can continue to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Stanley, a PGA Tour rookie and Q-School graduate. The Deere was his first top-10 of the season.
This is the better late than never British Open. Several names on the leaderboard were late additions to the field, including Bjorn, who got in the field when Vijay Singh withdrew earlier this week.
Simon Dyson, who was added to the field when David Toms withdrew last week, and Pablo Larrazabal, who earned his spot by winning the BMW International Open in late June, both shot 68. Webb Simpson, who gained entry last week based on the Official World Golf Ranking, and Ricky Barnes, the last man in the field, were 2 under par on their back nine.
Barnes gained entry in the Open when Nicolas Colsaerts withdrew on Thursday. Simpson and Stanley were teammates on the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team that won at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.
Stanley hired Dustin Johnson’s former caddie, Bobby Brown, at the Colonial. He said Brown has taken control of his practice habits, which has paid off in the form of improved wedge play and putting.
• • •
Best I can tell, Lucas Glover would be the first person with a beard to win the British Open since Bob Martin in 1885.
But Martin didn’t quite have a full beard. He sported mutton chops that came up short of his chin.
That brings us back to Bob Ferguson in 1882. But Ferguson’s facial hair was over his chin and didn’t cover the side of his face.
That means he could be the first one with a full beard since Willie Park Sr. in 1875.
Glover shot 66 Thursday and stands one stroke off the lead. That means historians must fear the beard.
– Jeff Rude
• • •
Another major is underway and another round is in the books without an American on top of the leaderboard.
Not since the third round of last year’s PGA Championship, when Nick Watney was poised to win his first major, has an American been at the top of the heap in a major.
In 2011, the trend continues to show signs of Americans not getting it done in the big events. At the Masters in April, four Americans – Ricky Barnes, Matt Kuchar, Bo Van Pelt and Tiger Woods – were the top Americans after each day. None was closer to the lead than three shots.
The U.S. Open was worse for the red, white and blue, with Ryan Palmer, Robert Garrigus, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Kevin Chappell low Americans in the four days at Congressional.
Like the Masters, the closest an American came to the top of the leaderboard was a tie for third by Garrigus in the final round. The closest an American got to the lead that week was four shots in Round 1 and Garrigus/Chappell were 10 shots behind Rory McIllroy in the end.
Now 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover is the 10th player in 2011 that has been America’s leading hope at the end of a major round. He shot a 4-under 66 Thursday at Royal St. George’s.
Historically, Glover’s Open Championship record is spotty. In five previous appearances, the three-time PGA Tour winner’s best finish across the pond is a 27th at Carnoustie in 2007.
Glover’s 66 is only his second round in the 60s at the Open Championship. He shot an opening round 67 at St. Andrews last year.
But, Glover is the closest any American has been to a leader in a major championship this year, just one shot off of Thomas Bjorn’s lead.
“I can always use ‘09 U.S. Open and PGA in the back of my head whenever I get there in any tournament, not just majors,” Glover said of his current position on the leaderboard. “I do have that to fall on, but I’ve still got to hit the shots and still got to execute. But if we get down to the back nine Sunday and I’m where I want to be, I can fall back on the fact that I have executed and done the right things under that pressure.”
• • •
Bad enough that he came down with swollen glands sometime Wednesday, Dustin Johnson was 4 over walking off the 13th green, and that really made him feel lousy. So he turned to his caddie, Joe LaCava, and mentioned how all he wanted on the final five holes was to “get looks.”
You could say he did more than that, because a hole-in-one at the par-3 16th highlighted Johnson’s explosive finish to get him into the clubhouse at level par.
The ace at the 159-yard 16th came after birdies at 14 and 15 and before a birdie at 17. Nothing like a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie run to make those swollen glands feel better, eh?
Hey, not even a bogey at 18 ruined the day for Johnson.
“Standing on 14, I wanted to make a few birdies and give myself a chance to get back in this thing,” he said. “If you would have bet me money that I would be 1 under par standing on the 18th tee, I would have taken it.”
• • •
A trend continued as Peter Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, started a major with a strong effort. Playing alongside Geoff Ogilvy and Miguel Angel Jimenez, the Oklahoma State senior birdied his 18th hole to shoot 1-over 71.
That is similar to the first-round 72s he fired in the Masters and U.S. Open.
What he’s hoping is that another trend doesn’t continue Friday, because Uihlein missed the cut with scratchy second-round efforts at the Masters (77) and U.S. Open (78).
• • •
Miguel Angel Jimenez shot 4-under 66, the seventh time he’s opened an Open Championship with a sub-70 score. His best remains the 64 he threw down at Turnberry in 2009, though his fast starts haven’t always translated well. In fact, in 17 previous starts in this championship, Jimenez has but one top 10.
Known for his zest for good food and better wine, Jimenez was asked if he’d celebrate the fast start with a glass of Rioja, a Spanish favorite. He shook his head and said he wouldn’t be celebrating anything, but he would have a glass of Rioja.
“It doesn’t matter what the scores are going to be tomorrow,” he said. “I’m going to have a glass of Rioja tonight.”
Continuing with vintage Jimenez, he revealed that while his sponsor provides him with an adequate number of golf shirts, he doesn’t mind shopping in the R&A merchandise tent for Open Championship ones.
“I have to pay for them,” Jimenez said. “But I’m a fan of the Open, too, you know?”
• • •
Nick Watney arrived at Royal St. George’s two weeks removed from his AT&T National victory and one year after finishing seventh at St. Andrews. Watney was a popular pre-tournament pick because of those two results. But it took birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to help minimize the damage of a poor start, a 4-over 74.
“I left myself in a couple places that you pretty much couldn’t pick worse spots,” Watney said. “It was a poor day, but I don’t feel like I’m out of the tournament yet.”
• • •
What a difference eight years makes.
On his last visit to Royal St. George’s, Ben Curtis was a stunning winner in his first-ever major.
Hard to envision a repeat of that effort, because Curtis made seven bogeys in a nine-hole stretch in the middle of his round and shot 77.
• • •
Adjusting to a northwest wind that figured to be 15-20 miles per hour, with gusts up to 25-30, R&A officials shortened the course somewhat. Though it can be stretched to 7,211 yards, Royal St. George’s was set up for Round 1 at 7,085. The biggest difference was at the par-3 11th; instead of 243 yards, it played just 214.
• • •
He was not offended. To the contrary, “I told Peter Dawson I thought it was quite an honor,” Jerry Kelly said.
Handed the duty of hitting the opening tee shot of the 140th Open Championship, Kelly not only embraced it, he did so knowing what went into the decision by Dawson, chief executive of the R&A. “I recognize the irony,” Kelly said, laughing.
In 2003, the last time the Open was held at Royal St. George’s, Kelly sprayed his tee ball into brutal rough and hacked his way to an astounding 11. Sitting 7 over par minutes into things, he was virtually out of the championship before it began. Kelly found humor, but he didn’t have any flashbacks when he saw he had the first shot this year.
“It was no big deal,” he said. “But I understand you guys writing about it. I was just more nervous about starting the Open.”
Thursday morning, things went far better, though Kelly was hardly thrilled with his bogey at the 444-yard hole. It played dead downwind and he only had a sand wedge into the green, but knocked it off the back. Kelly chose not to use his putter, and when he made bogey he immediately had second thoughts. He also cringed at making a double at the par-4 second hole, but from 3 over through two, Kelly righted the ship somewhat, though he finished at 4-over 74.
“But I wasn’t jumpy at all,” Kelly said. “I just didn’t get it done.”
To accommodate his 6:30 a.m. tee time, Kelly said he got up at 3:45 to get here from Canterbury, which is a challenging drive this week. Why is he there? Kelly smiled. “Closest place with a decent hotel,” he said, emphasizing the word “decent.”
• • •
Speaking of early risers, Thongchai Jaidee is getting pretty proficient in the art. He was in the second game, off at 6:41, and the man from Thailand said it’s the third consecutive week he’s drawn a first-round tee time in either the first or second group.
He doesn’t mind it, “but not every week,” Jaidee said.
Playing in his fifth Open Championship, Jaidee opened with a 75.
• • •
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the top two players, respectively, in the world rankings, are the favorites to return the Claret Jug to an Englishman’s hand for the first time since Nick Faldo in 1992.
Then there’s Danny Willett, No. 121 in the world, who briefly held the clubhouse lead at Royal St. George’s, thanks to good playing and good timing.
He shot 69 while playing in the day’s first game.
“I’ve not been nervous all week, but there’s just something different when they start announcing your name,” Willett said about teeing off in front of his home fans.
From Sheffield, Willett won the 2007 English Amateur at Royal St. George’s. He was a teammate of Rory McIlroy’s on the 2007 Walker Cup team and once occupied the No. 1 spot in the R&A’s world amateur golf ranking.
But Willett has yet to win since joining the European Tour in 2008.
Willett woke up at 4 a.m. to prepare for his first-ever round in the British Open. However, his parents missed the good play; they’re scheduled to arrive at Royal St. George’s this afternoon after making the 4-hour drive from Sheffield.
• • •
When it comes to avoiding the traffic and having a short commute, no one in the field of 156 can match Francis McGuirk. He’s a mini-tour regular and lives in Sandwich Bay, perhaps a 3-wood away.
Not many can match the drama with which McGuirk rode into this year’s Open, either. Playing in a local qualifier at Prince’s, a heralded golf course that sits adjacent to Royal St. George’s and which is owned by McGuirk’s father, the 37-year-old shot 68-71 with an eagle on the final hole. He finished joint second to earn his way into his first Open Championship.
• • •
A kinder, gentler Royal St. George’s? That’s what we heard coming into the championship and apparently it’s true. Only three players shot in the 60s in the first round of the 2003 tournament here; five of the first 18 players who went out in cool, rainy conditions this time around broke 70.
– Jim McCabe and Alex Miceli contributed