Startling Start Turned wicked by the weather, St. George's was a royal pain during one of the wildest--and weirdest--opening rounds ever

July 27, 2003

The 132nd British Open began with a Royal Smackdown. As bad starts
go, last Thursday's round at quirky Royal St. George's ranked up
there with George O'Leary's first week on the job at Notre Dame.
¶ How bad was it? The world's top-ranked golfer lost his ball in
the rough...on his first swing of the tournament. The defending
Open champion barely broke 80...yet trounced the guys he was
playing with. Scotland's best player, who has a history of
stumbling in the majors...stumbled at his hotel before
breakfast and injured his right hand, forcing him to withdraw
after only seven holes. And a top American became the new poster
boy for disaster when he one-putted the 1st green...for an 11.

It was obvious by 6:30 on Thursday morning that no one was going
to have a nice day. The horizon was already missing in action.
Looking out to sea as rain pelted sideways and a southwest wind
howled, you couldn't tell where the charcoal-colored rain clouds
ended and the greenish-gray sea waters began. The sky and the sea
formed a slate as grim and gray as a lawyer's soul.

The roller-coaster fairways, ball-eating pot bunkers and
brick-hard greens of Royal St. George's combined with the wild
weather to turn the first round into as much of a test of sanity
as of golf. "It can drive you crazy if you let it," said U.S. pro
Chris Smith, who, after reaching the 550-yard par-5 14th in two
with a three-iron and an eight-iron in the balmy practice rounds,
had to hit driver, five-iron, five-iron there on Thursday. Smith
ended up shooting a 74. "That was 10 under today," he said, only
half joking.

Phil Mickelson called a one-stroke penalty on himself when the
wind blew his ball four inches after he had addressed it on the
15th green. "You couldn't land a plane in some of these
crosswinds," said Mickelson, an accomplished pilot. "It would tip
over."

The weather wasn't as horrid as it was during the third round of
last year's British Open, at Muirfield. It was 20° warmer at St.
George's, the rain ceased at 8:30, and the sun was out for most
of the afternoon. But Thursday's average score at St. George's
(76.50) was worse than Saturday's at Muirfield (74.61) because
while the Muirfield storm was more intense, it lasted only four
hours. St. George's wind blew all day.

Defending champion Ernie Els struggled to shoot an unseemly 78,
but he nonetheless was low man in his group, beating David Toms
(80) and Shigeki Maruyama (83). The threesome didn't make a
single birdie.

This Royal Smackdown was symbolized by the scavenger hunt that
Tiger Woods and friends conducted in the right rough on the 1st
hole, a 442-yard par-4. Tiger's first shot wasn't more than five
yards off the fairway, but, amazingly, the ball disappeared like
D.B. Cooper. "Did anyone actually see it come down?" Woods asked
the gallery. The fans obligingly tried to direct the search
party, and there was a ray of hope when a marshal found a ball.
"Nike 1?" Woods asked. "Titleist 4," the man answered. The party
continued until five minutes elapsed. Then came another rare
sight--Woods riding a cart back to the tee to reload. (The R&A
provided the cart to speed up play, so please hold the e-mails.)
One fan got a laugh when he asked, "Has he decided to go home
already?"

Woods's second drive landed in the general vicinity of the first
but was found. He chopped his next shot through the fairway and
into the left rough and went on to make a triple-bogey 7.
"Disconcerting," Woods said when asked about the incident. "It's
frustrating when the forecaddies told us they saw where the ball
went in and heard it go in, but couldn't find it." Woods salvaged
a two-over 73, playing the last 17 holes in an impressive one
under despite three straight bogeys on the back nine. The affair
brought to mind the incident at the 17th hole during last year's
final round at Muirfield in which Gary Evans, making a run at the
leaders, lost his ball in thick rough on his second shot. "A
hundred and fifty people, and none of them saw my ball," Evans
said during the search. "This would never happen to Tiger Woods."

Woods was one of 12 players who made double or worse on the 1st
hole. "The rest of the holes aren't as bad," said Greg Norman,
whose 69 was one of the biggest surprises of the day. "I think
they made the 1st hole like that to intimidate you and say,
'Don't miss the fairways here.'" Norman predicted before the
tournament that the field would be lucky if 20% hit that narrow
1st fairway. He was on the money--23% hit it on Thursday.

The Tin Cup Award went to Jerry Kelly, who will spend the rest of
his life answering this question: How did you make an 11 on the
1st hole of the British Open? "I'll say, 'I holed a 30-footer,
man,'" Kelly said.

If you must know, here are Kelly's gory details: He drove into
the left rough; his second shot went 15 feet; he gouged it across
the fairway into the right rough and moved his ball only 10 feet
in four swings; he took an unplayable-lie penalty; he missed the
green to the left with a six-iron from 191 yards; and he chipped
on, then sank the lengthy putt. "I shanked two, almost whiffed
two," Kelly said. "I ran the gamut." The gallery cheered loudly
after Kelly made the putt, and he held up 10 fingers in mock
triumph, then had second thoughts and asked the group's official
scorer, "What'd I make there?" Eleven strokes was the reply.
"When you put in so much work and come over here and that happens
on the 1st hole...it's disheartening," Kelly said. "I was
pretty unhappy."

No wonder. Kelly wound up with an 86 and added injury to insult
when he hurt his left ring finger hitting a three-iron out of
thick rough at the 17th hole. The finger made a loud popping
noise when he flexed it after the round, but give Kelly, a former
hockey player, tough-guy points. He finished the round even
though he had to play from a buried lie in a greenside bunker at
18, a shot he knew would hurt. "I couldn't [withdraw] in front of
the stands at 18," Kelly said. "They're great golf fans, and I
wasn't picking up my ball in front of them." He later WD'd on a
doctor's advice.

The only man with a worse start than Kelly's was Colin
Montgomerie, whose Open ended virtually before it began. The Scot
was on his way to breakfast at his hotel when he missed a step
and fell awkwardly. He injured his right wrist breaking his fall.
"What's really pissing me off," Monty told his coach, Denis Pugh,
before he learned the seriousness of the injury, "is that I can't
eat breakfast." Unable to hit more than a few shots on the
practice range, Montgomerie tried to play--"I had to give it a
go; it's the Open," he said--but knew it was hopeless when he
shanked a three-iron off the 6th tee and then moved his next shot
fewer than 10 feet. After teeing off on 8, Monty withdrew and
rode a cart back to the clubhouse.

On Friday the Scottish colors flew at half-mast among the other
flags atop the grandstand at the 18th hole, but not in tribute to
the fallen Montgomerie. The flag had simply slipped in the wind,
like most of the luckless field during Thursday's Royal
Smackdown.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN [INSIDE COVER] BRITISH OPEN CURTIS CUP Tour Rookie Ben Curtis Wins a Major on His First Try COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM BUTLER/AP [INSIDE T OF C] DRIVE FOR SHOW Tiger Woods tied for third at Royal St. George's, marking his fifth straight major without a win. COLOR PHOTO: ROSS KINNAIRD/GETTY IMAGES BIG NUMBERS Kelly made a one-putt 11 on the 1st hole, while Montgomerie WD'd before he had finished the front nine. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK HIDE AND SEEK Woods (below) came back strong from a lost ball, as did Jarrod Moseley, who saved par from the sand at 7. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH [See caption above]

"They made the 1st hole like that to intimidate you and say,
'Don't miss the fairways here,'" Norman said.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)