British Open 2010: Rory McIlroy ties record; John Daly, Tiger Woods in pursuit

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, 27, is no longer a no-name after his dominant, seven-stroke victory at St. Andrews.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND -- The strangest thing happened overnight here, sometime before light fell across the Old Course on Thursday morning. A rain in which Noah himself might have felt comfortable turned to drizzle, then to mist, then disappeared altogether, taking the morning off. A wind that howled in off the North Sea somehow tired, blowing itself into oblivion, resting in the hours before noon. What remained, when the British Open began, would have seemed unfathomable just 12 hours before: calm.

"It felt awkward, because there was absolutely no wind whatsoever," Tiger Woods said. "And you never play a links golf course with no wind."

This from a guy whose tee time was 9:09 a.m., when the flags fell limp. At that hour, an accomplished player could shoot 5-under-par 67, as Woods did, and carry a tinge of disappointment because, as he said, "the course could have been had."

At that hour, a player as talented as Rory McIlroy -- the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland defined by his hair and his flair -- could threaten the record for low score in a major championship and end up tying it with a simple-as-can-be 9-under 63, a round that was perhaps equally due to St. Andrews's utter vulnerability as it was to McIlroy's superior play.

"You're never going to get St. Andrews to play easier," he said.

At the moment McIlroy spoke, it was just after 1 p.m. And perhaps right then, the flags atop the grandstands awoke. With that, so did the Old Course.

The first round of the British Open yielded a leader board with some of the right names, McIlroy and Woods among them, and many surprising ones, none more so than John Daly, the 1995 champion here who managed a 6-under 66 despite what would have to be considered the distraction of his own multicolored pants.

The usual array of who-the-heck-is-that characters also joined the fray, with Louis Oosthuizen -- a South African who has never finished better than 73rd in a major -- coming closest to matching McIlroy with a 65. Scotland's Andrew Coltart, who spent the past two Opens working as a television analyst because he didn't qualify to play, matched Daly with 66, as did England's Steven Tiley, who had to win a three-man playoff in a qualifying event just to be here.

The common thread among that diverse group: They all began play before noon. Indeed, of the 16 players who shot 67 or better, 14 teed off before 1 p.m. By the time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who had a 2:20 p.m. tee time, reached the 16th tee, the wind had turned a fan's umbrella inside-out. When Mickelson made his only birdie of the day at 18 -- he had a double bogey and 16 pars en route to 73 -- it was raining.

Such was the distinction between a.m. and p.m. that Englishman Paul Casey and Argentina's Angel Cabrera, who went out at 1:31 p.m., endured a squall as they reached the 17th green, let it pass, and then lamented their bad fortune.

"He felt it was four shots tougher this afternoon," Casey said of Cabrera, "although we've got no way of measuring."

McIlroy and the other leaders aren't as concerned about such measuring. Daly set the tone shortly after his 7:25 a.m. start. Wearing an outfit only he could assemble -- a hat that didn't match his sweater vest, a sweater vest that didn't match his shirt, and a shirt that didn't match his pants, which were straight from an episode of "Doctor Who" -- he began with two birdies, then birdied 8, 9, 10 and 11.

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