Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Ian Poulter wrapped up their first rounds at the British Open with varying degrees of success, but they were unanimous about one thing: they aren’t happy with the setup of the Muirfield course.
Mickelson, who fired a 2-under 69, expressed pity for the golfers who were coping with blazingly fast greens — that were only growing faster as the afternoon progressed — and challenging pin placements. Scotland is in the midst of a real summer, with the greens baking, and Mickelson knew the good fortune he’d found with an early tee time.
“I got really lucky, Tom, because I think the R and A [Royal and Ancient] was really worried about scores going too low and so they used some really funky pin placements,” Mickelson told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after finishing his round with a three-putt bogey on No. 18. “Watch the guys on 8. It’s going to be funny. They used some funny spots and about a third of every green has died, it’s so brown. I hit two perfect shots on 18, left it in the exact spot I wanted to leave it and I ended up hitting — just trying to lag it — it still went way by.
“Like I said, I got really lucky to play early because I at least had a fighting chance.”
Mickelson didn’t think foresee anyone matching his 69 in the afternoon.
“Oh, I don’t see anybody in the afternoon with a realistic chance. You’ll get off to a good start because there are some birdie holes and the par-5s are reachable, which is the one thing I didn’t do well today; I played them even,” Mickelson said. “But I thought it was a little overdone and I feel bad for these guys who have to go out and play it because they’re at a distinct disadvantage.
“It’s one of those elements where luck is always a factor, but it shouldn’t have been a factor. The weather didn’t come in — it’s fine. It’s just the way it was presented to us.”
Johnson, the early leader with a 66, agreed with Mickelson’s criticism of the pin placements, particularly at 8, 17 and 18.
“I was shocked with a couple pin placements,” Johnson said,” but in the Open you kind of expect difficult conditions and a difficult setup — nothing out of the ordinary in that regard. I guess, if anything, what I’m most surprised about is the fact that it’s just so dry right now. The fairways are rolling just as fast as the greens and the pins left, you have to miss right and the pins right, you have to miss it left. That’s really what it boils down to.
“Two-putting from two feet and beyond has got your attention.”
Poulter shot a 72 and his assessment was as colorful as his wardrobe. He tweeted:
Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face.
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) July 18, 2013
Stewart Cink weighed in, too:
Muirfield greens really baking out in the sun. Keep an eye on #8, #9, and #16-18. Overall the greens are the fastest I’ve seen in the Open.
— Stewart Cink (@stewartcink) July 18, 2013
Mickelson, speaking with reporters afterward, expressed hope that the RGA might address golfers’ concerns tonight.
“Hopefully, they’ll … let go of their ego and set it up reasonable,” he said, “but you just never know.”
Peter Dawson, RGA chief executive, said (via ESPN): “Every day we have a meeting with the greens staff at the close of play. We’ll be deciding this evening what our hole locations will be for tomorrow. Obviously, we’ll take the conditions that we’ve seen today into account and indeed the comments that we’ve seen today into account because it’s very important that we have a championship course that’s not just a great test for the players but that the players also appreciate. We hear what people say.”