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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – The world’s elite turned up expecting Royal Lytham to play like a lion and found a pussycat. The only way the golf course could have played any easier is if the R&A had used the forward tees.
Many years ago, a Scotsman supposedly said: “Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf.” There was there no wind, and the rain fell softly only near the end of the day. It made Lytham toothless. The links played so easy that there was talk of someone shooting 62.
No one has ever shot 62 in a major championship, although scores of 63 have been posted on 25 occasions. With Lytham playing to a par of 70 this year, the elusive 62 definitely was on.
Adam Scott might have posted that score if not for a bogey at the third, and a sloppy bogey down the 18th when he pulled his tee shot. He had to settle for 64 and the first-round lead.
“It’s nice just to take advantage of the calm conditions,” Scott said. “I know there’s never been a 62. I was waiting to use the bathroom going to the 17th tee, and I did look at the leaderboard and realized it was a par 70. I also probably realized I wasn’t going to be the guy to shoot 62. It’s one of those things you don’t want to go through your mind.”
Maybe others weren’t thinking of 62, but they were thinking of going low.
“In benign conditions like this, if you get it in play, you can get at this golf course,” said Ernie Els, who shot 3-under 67 to be three off the lead.
Graeme McDowell was like nearly every player in the field: He turned up expecting the worst, but felt as if he were playing a different course to the one he played in practice.
“After all the chat about conditions and how difficult this golf course is and how much rain is there going to be, how much wind there is going to be, it was kind of weird standing out there on about the ninth tee looking around in shirt sleeves at guys being 4, 5 and 6 under par,” McDowell said. “It was pretty benign.”
Five-time winner Tom Watson is making his 35th appearance in the Open Championship. He could count only two previous occasions when there was less wind.
“It’s not the most benign,” Watson said. “The first round at Turnberry in 2009, there was no wind at all. When I won at Muirfield (1980), there wasn’t a breath. But usually you get more wind than this, so you’re going to see low scores.”
With Lytham already soft after an unusually wet spring and summer, the course is playing like a PGA Tour course. It is green and lush instead of hard and brown – not the way the R&A prefers its Open Championship layouts. The governing body wants fast-running links, so that the ball releases into wispy rough off the fairway and it’s hard to get close to the flags.
The rain has made the fairways all the wider this week, because there is little run on the ball. As for the greens, players are able to spin the ball and get it to stop. They are even making pitch marks, which rarely happens on a links.
“We’re backing golf balls up,” Tiger Woods said. “That’s something we just don’t see.”
It wasn’t something the top amateurs saw in last year’s Lytham Trophy, one of the biggest amateur events in Great Britain & Ireland. Brutal is the best word to describe the conditions on that occasion. No player bettered the par of 70 all week. Only 12 players in the 141-man field managed to avoid a score in the 80s. Jack Senior won with a 19-over 299 total, which included a second-round 82.
McDowell called Lytham a “sleeping giant.” It just didn’t wake up on the opening day.
Supposedly it was an Englishman who said: “When the sun shines make hay.” The world’s best got the chance to do that on arguably the best English course on the Open rotation.
They may not get a second opportunity.