ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The R&A wanted to keep attention on the 150th anniversary of The Open this week and off the ongoing dispute between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf for the best players in the world.
The R&A wasn’t exactly subtle in trying to make sure that happened. It didn’t invite LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a two-time Open winner, to St. Andrews for the celebration. It also didn’t include a single LIV player in the pre-tournament news conference schedule, nor the featured pairings for the opening round Thursday.
That didn’t stop many LIV players from performing quite well on the Old Course. Among them: Dustin Johnson (4-under 68), Lee Westwood (4-under 68), Talor Gooch (4-under 68), Ian Poulter (3-under 69), Bryson DeChambeau (3-under 69), and Scott Vincent (3-under 69).
— LIV Golf (@LIVGolfInv) July 14, 2022
Westwood, who is attempting to win his first major at age 49, said he received a warm reception from fans in Scotland.
“I think the media are stoking it up and doing as much as they can to aid that,” Westwood said of the rift between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. “I think the general public just wants to go out there and see good golf no matter where it’s being played or who’s playing it.”
“He’s got a vested interest, hasn’t he?” Westwood said. “The LIV players will talk up LIV. The PGA Tour players that aren’t on the LIV tour will talk the PGA Tour up and put down the LIV tour.”
Some of LIV Golf’s bigger stars had a tougher time getting around the Old Course, including Phil Mickelson (even-par 72), Patrick Reed (even-par 72), Brooks Koepka (1-over 73) and Sergio Garcia (3-over 75).
Poulter, from England, is a longtime European Ryder Cup fan favorite. There were a couple of fans who booed him before his opening tee shot, but Poulter insisted he didn’t hear them. He also said something to a fan who shouted at him on No. 17.
“There’s always one American in the crowd,” Poulter said.
Gooch, who caught some flak for comparing the atmosphere at the second LIV event at Pumpkin Ridge outside Portland, Oregon, to the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, called The Open his favorite tournament.
“It’s not comparable because that was team golf [at LIV] and this is not team golf,” Gooch told ESPN, when asked to compare the two events. “It’s kind of apples and oranges there.”
Tiger’s quick turnaround
Tiger Woods, who struggled to a 6-over 78 in the first round, won’t have much time to recover or rest before the second round Friday. His first round took 6 hours, 5 minutes to play; he didn’t walk off the Old Course until around 9 p.m. local time on Thursday night.
At the Masters in April, Woods said he needed a couple of hours to get his body going before playing a round. Aside from the injuries Woods suffered in a serious car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021, which he said nearly led to surgeons amputating his right leg, he has been dealing with neck and back injuries the past several years.
The good news is Woods said the walk Thursday was easier than the ones he had in the first rounds of the Masters and the PGA Championship. The bad news is that it was a 6-hour walk because of the very slow pace of play.
“We weren’t exactly speed demons out there either,” Woods said. “The whole round took a long time, and we were getting waved up. And it was a long, slow day.”
Defending the Old Course
They’ve been playing golf on the links at St. Andrews since the early 15th century, but the “home of golf” doesn’t stand up very well to modern players and equipment in terms of length.
With the fairways firm from warm weather and no rain, balls were rolling out like never before. Tiger Woods had a 412-yard drive on the par-5 14th.
“It’s the firmest I’ve ever seen, no doubt,” Gooch said. “Anybody I’ve asked over the last 48 hours has agreed. It’s the firmest golf course anybody has ever seen. It’s amazing.”
All week, players have noted that the fairways were faster than the greens. They said that was still the case Thursday.
“I’ve been putting really well this year as a whole, but I noticed the links greens are usually a little bit slower than what we normally play,” Viktor Hovland said. “I just noticed in the practice rounds I was just barely getting the ball to the hole. So anything inside 15 feet, I was really trying to hit it two, three feet past the hole just to give it a chance to go in.”
There’s a decent chance of overnight rain before the second round.
“If there’s no rain in the forecast, it might get a touch firmer, especially the greens,” said Rory McIlroy, who shot 6-under 66 in the first round. “I definitely noticed [Thursday] some of the high points in the greens were getting a little burnt out and bare. And I think because of that, there are certain areas of certain greens that were a little faster than others. So that’s something just to keep an eye on over the next few days.”
Some work to do to stick around
The cut for The Open includes the top 70 scores and ties. After the first round, 76 players had scores of even or better — and 100 had scores of 1 over or better.
In last year’s Open at Royal St. George’s, the cut was 1 over. It was the same at Royal Portrush in 2019.
Along with Koepka and Garcia, there are plenty of notable players who need to make up ground, or at least not go in the wrong direction Friday, to stick around for the weekend.
“Just wake up and do it, you know,” Homa said. “Fortunately, I’ve got some adrenaline being here and playing with Tiger, so it will be fun. I mean, pretty cool problem to have. I’ve got to wake up early and play the Old Course.”
Will somebody pay attention to No. 1?
Another major, another early run by world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler to get himself in contention for another victory. Scheffler carded a 4-under 68 and is tied for fifth. He has finished in the top five seven times in 13 rounds in majors this season, tied with McIlroy for the most by any player. He has been in the top 10 in 15 of the past 18 rounds at majors going back to 2021.
Scheffler won the Masters, missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for second at the U.S. Open.
“I’m just trying to keep myself in position, avoid the bunkers, and just stay in position, really,” Scheffler said. “That’s all I’m trying to do. There’s certain spots where you can attack this golf course, and there’s a lot of spots where you can’t. So just trying to manage expectations and really just trying to execute and hit good shots.”
And the man who won four times in six starts this spring is still being asked if he’s getting enough respect. He wasn’t included in a feature group in the first two rounds, although his pairing with Joaquin Niemann and Tyrrell Hatton wasn’t too bad.
“I don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff,” Scheffler said. “For me, I’m just showing up and trying to play good golf. I thought I was in a featured pairing [Thursday]. The guys I played with are pretty solid golfers. I mean, it’s y’all’s opinion. It’s all perception. For me, I’m just out here trying to play good golf.”