- Tiger and Rory are in jeopardy of missing the cut at Royal Portrush, while Brooks Koepka is in the hunt at yet another major. Here’s a look at an unexpected leaderboard after the first round of the 2019 British Open.
There was rain and there was sun, windy spurts and placid spells, lucky birdies and unlucky bogeys. There was a hole-in-one and a hole-in-14. There were great players near the top of the leaderboard and almost as many near the bottom. Three more days of this will make for a wonderful Open Championship.
Here are five thoughts on the first day of action at Royal Portrush.
Just like that, Tiger, Rory and Phil are out of it
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson might be the three most popular golfers in the world. They’re also all likely to be firing up their respective private jets tomorrow afternoon for an early trip back home. Or, in Rory’s case, away from home.
Mickelson teed off in one of the first groups of the day, and it didn’t take long for us to understand why he was so down on his chances coming into this week. Lefty, who recently went on a six-day fasting retreat and lost 15 pounds in an attempt to jolt his game into gear, made seven bogeys en route to a five-over 76. McIlroy snap-hooked his first tee shot out of bounds, made quadruple bogey 8, fought his way back to respectability then finished double-par-triple for 79. Northern Ireland’s native son deserves a ton of credit for staying upbeat and talking to media after the round, but despite his brave face, this has to be one of the most disappointing rounds of his career. Woods looked like a zombie during his 78—completely devoid of any juice and perhaps physically uncomfortable (if not in downright pain).
After the round, Woods responded to questions about his health with: “Just the way it is…and just the way it’s going to be,” before heading for treatment. It’s the sad new reality. But—and this is a significant but—we will always have Augusta 2019.
Other big names who struggled on Thursday: Adam Scott (77), Ian Poulter (75), Bryson DeChambeau (74), defending champion Francesco Molinari (74), Xander Schauffele (74).
Brooks Koepka is at it again
Virtually everything there is to be said about Brooks at The Majors has been said, but there’s one thing he does that I think is slightly under-appreciated: he gets off to extremely fast starts, and did so again today in shooting 68. Some guys play conservatively out of the gates, hoping to play themselves into the round with a couple stress-free pars. Not Koepka. He’s hungry for birdies and he eats when he wants to. On the first two holes at each of the four majors—so eight holes total—he is a combined 4–under. He wastes absolutely no time, and today was no different: he birdied the par-5 second and added one at 5 to quickly put himself on the first page of the leaderboard.
It’s way more likely than not that he’ll stay there for the rest of the week. Let us appreciate this historic run while it is still ongoing.
Other big names who did not struggle on Thursday: Jon Rahm (68), Sergio Garcia (68), Tommy Fleetwood (68), Tony Finau (68), Justin Rose (69)
Unexpected names on top of leaderboard
If you had J.B. Holmes as your solo leader after round one of the Open Championships, come collect your prize...for the world’s biggest liar. The 37-year-old from Kentucky hits the ball sky-high and has missed the cut in five of his nine Open starts, but he played beautifully in the breeze and sits alone at the top of the leaderboard at five-under 66. A shot behind him is Shane Lowry, who's terrible record in the Open (he’s missed the cut in each of the last four) never really made sense given his Irish roots and his remarkable set of hands. So very many things can happen between now and Sunday, but Lowry has a better chance of sticking around and being a factor than Holmes does, methinks.
Royal Portrush is more than holding its own
How wonderful it was, a full day of major championship golf without people complaining about the golf course. There seems to always be something wrong with venues—it’s too hard or it’s too easy, too dry or too firm—and the course takes started flowing at 9 a.m. local time at Pebble Beach. Today, there was beautiful silence. That’s a testament to just how good a layout Royal Portrush is, as well as how good the R&A is as setting up major championship tests. There are birdie holes and hold-on-for-life holes. There are stunning vistas and architectural nuances. It has everything.
Let’s remember: the golf course was never the reason the Open stayed away from Northern Ireland. Royal Portrush is great. Royal Portrush has been great.
The Open Championship app/website is a massive letdown for one huge reason
The only thing a golf tournament’s app/website has to have is a tracking function. The PGA Tour has shot tracker for basically every single event. The U.S. Open and PGA have their own tracking widget. The Masters leads in this arena by far—this year, Augusta rolled out a new feature that uploads video of virtually every single shot to the app, instantly. Tracking on steroids.
The British Open? Nothing. You simply cannot track a player while he is in the middle of the hole. Is the guy you’re following not getting any TV coverage? Tough luck. You’ll simply have to wait until his score on a hole is updated. It’s shocking and embarrassing that, in 2019, one of the four biggest golf tournaments in the world does not provide its millions of fans worldwide with a way to track players shot-by-shot. Be better.