Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, played today at Carnoustie in much the same manner he approached his four glorious days at Royal Troon two years ago. In both tournaments, the wind presented similar challenges in the first round.
Leonard shot 69 on that breezy Thursday at Troon, despite not hitting a green in regulation on the back nine. Today, he hit eight fairways and eight greens, but his performance during his 2-over round of 73 may have been as gritty as his first-day effort at Troon.
"This is a little bit different golf course," Leonard said. "But the back nine was so hard that day, very similar to this. You're just trying to give yourself a chance, if you can't hit the green, to get up and down.
"My whole experience at Troon helps me come in here with maybe a little better attitude knowing that the golf course is going to be brutally difficult, knowing the conditions are going to be tough. They're going to hand the trophy to somebody on Sunday, so you try to stay positive for all you can."
Nick Price, the '94 British champion at Turnberry, described the conditions today as "close to impossible as I've ever played. I'm still smiling, but it's too severe, the [Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which administers the tournament] has gone over the top this time. Trying to hit fairways and judge distances is so difficult."
Price was amazed at some of the clubs he used today. "At number 4, I hit a 9-iron 190 yards and I'm behind the green. At the 17th [459 yards into the wind], I laid up with a driver."
One of the more amazing shots of the day came from Vijay Singh at the downwind 515-yard 14th hole, which shares a double green with the fourth hole. He hit an 8-iron 261 yards, with the ball hitting on the 14th hole portion of the putting surface, rolling up the hill and all the way through to the fringe in front of the fourth hole portion. He chipped to eight feet and missed the putt for a bizarre par.
Said Price, "If I was a spectator, I'd ask for my money back. I played here in 1975 as an 18-year-old amateur and shot 77 in my first round, the same score I had today. I guess I haven't improved very much."
Fred Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach, withdrew after shooting 83 in the first round because of what was described as a sore right shoulder.
Funk actually was on the leader board after going 1 under through his first five holes, but he had a double bogey and two bogeys for a 39 on the front, had five bogeys and two doubles on the back and was not a happy man.
"I'm just hitting the ball terrible," Funk said after finishing his round. "This is not the place to do that. If you're not hitting it good, you can't play here. If you're not playing well, this course will eat you alive. If you're playing well, you'll make even par."
It was a bad day for some of the whiz kids in the field. In addition to 19-year-old Sergio Garcia posting an 18-over 89, Justin Rose, 18, who finished fourth last year at Birkdale, managed a 79 and 16-year-old qualifier Zane Scotland ended at 11-over 82. . . . It's also been a bad week for Kemper Open champion Rich Beem. He was charged with driving while intoxicated here this week, then shot 9-over 80 today.