The world's greatest golfers were profoundly humbled by the links of Carnoustie today in the first round of the 128th British Open.
First they had to deal with the whipping wind off the churning Firth of Tay, often gusting to 35 mph. Then came the occasional pelting rain in the afternoon. On a course with narrow fairways and high rough, the even-par round of 71 posted by the leader, Australian journeyman Rodney Pampling, was a most remarkable score. Anyone who shot in the 70s was still in contention, if only because more of the same conditions are expected Friday.
Playing in his first British Open and going off in the second group, at 7:30 a.m., Pampling posted a round many players later said was simply astounding. It included eight one-putt greens in the first nine holes and an eagle at the downwind 515-yard 14th hole, where he made a 25-foot putt. Pampling was at 2 under through 14, but came home with bogeys on two of the final four holes.
"If you don't hit the fairways, you're looking at bogeys straightaway, if not worse," said Pampling, 29, a PGA Tour of Australasia member. "It's just extremely hard out there. You just keep playing and see what happens at the end of the day."
The average score for the 156-man field was 78.31, and today marked the first time since 1986 -- at the British Open at Turnberry -- that no player broke par in a round of a major championship. Fifty-seven players shot 80 or higher, including two in the 90s. Sergio Garcia, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation who finished first and second in his last two PGA European Tour events, shot an astounding 18-over 89.
"You've got the best players in the world playing on the most difficult golf course in the world," said Hugh Campbell, the tournament chairman who helped set it up. "At the moment, I'd say the most difficult course in the world is winning."
By the time play ended in full daylight shortly after 9:45 p.m., Pampling's closest pursuers were American Scott Dunlap, a PGA Tour rookie who finished third at the Doral Open in March, and two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer of Germany, both at 72.
Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, was in a group of seven at 73, and Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie were in contention -- and pleased with themselves as well -- after each posted 74. Love actually whiffed on a shot out of deep rough, leading to a double bogey at the 479-yard 12th after he had moved to 1 under with 10 pars and a birdie through 11 holes.
"It wasn't exhilarating, that's for sure," Woods said. "It was more of a job today. One bad shot, you're making 6, 7, 8 and above. . . . Was it fair? It was great we all had to play the same course. I thought par today was 75, 76. I shot under par. My par."
Woods had an interesting day. After barking at photographers at No. 2 for snapping his picture before he had hit out of a greenside bunker, he calmed considerably despite bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes. He also survived a hug-and-kiss attack on the 17th green by a young woman who ran on the course wearing some skimpy black underwear and little else.
At 7,361 yards -- the longest course in British Open history -- Carnoustie more than lived up to its reputation as one of the game's most formidable tests of skill, patience and perseverance. Many said they had never seen more difficult conditions -- the combination of punishing rough, extremely hard, narrow fairways and winds often made club selection educated guessing, at best.
Montgomerie, trying to become the first Scotsman to win an Open in Scotland since Tommy Armour prevailed here in 1931, said, "I'll take my 74 and run. I think anyone who had 74 would say the same thing. I'll take four of them. Plus-12, it seems crazy to think that could be the winning score. But if the breeze is the same, it could happen."
There were shattered egos scattered all over the grounds. Mark O'Meara, the defending champion, shot 12-over 83 and uncharacteristically walked past reporters in a huff, declining to comment. The same approach was taken by usually affable Tom Lehman, the '96 British champion, who had a 76.
O'Meara was contacted later by tournament officials and said, "I'm very disappointed that I shot 83. I mean, I'm a professional golfer. But I felt I got the score I deserved. I've never seen a more difficult or demanding golf course."
Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, whose broken right hand is still healing, managed 78. U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart shot 79, the same score as Open runner-up Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen had 80.
Tom Watson, who won the first of his five British Open titles here in 1975, came in at 11-over 82 and said, "I thought the course was unfair because the fairways are too narrow for the kind of rough we're seeing out there, but Bobby Jones said it wasn't meant to be a fair game. Whoever can hit it in the fairway will probably win it."
Garcia opened with a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole, including a shot out of deep rough that moved all of three feet. He hit only four fairways, landed in nine bunkers and had five double bogeys.
Garcia, too, chose the silent route off the grounds, telling reporters "I don't want to talk" in Spanish. His mother, Consuelo, tried to comfort her disconsolate son as they walked arm in arm into the clubhouse and his caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, said he told him, " `You've got a lot of majors to play, don't worry about it.' Look at the positive. He broke 90."
Later, Garcia spoke with a tournament public relations official, saying, "It does cross your mind that you'd like to walk off, but my caddie said `Come on, let's go see if I can shoot 80.' But I had two doubles [double bogeys at nine and 10] and it was impossible to get it going."
Stewart also had the same problem. After a double bogey at the 12th, he made back-to-back birdies, followed by three bogeys in his last four holes.
"It's already the hardest course in the rotation," said Stewart, who insisted that he made only two bad swings all day. "Add to that fairways that are 16 and 17 yards wide on par 4s that are 470 to 480 yards long. The landing area at Number 6 is 11 yards wide. . . . Over the top? Yeah, I think that's being kind."
CAPTION: Rodney Pampling, who plays on the Australasian tour, is the coolest customer at Carnoustie, shooting even-par 71.
CAPTION: Yesterday's round marked the first time since 1986 -- at the British Open at Turnberry -- that no player broke par in a major championship round.
CAPTION: Tiger Woods blasts out of a bunker at No. 5 in his round of 3-over 74. "It wasn't exhilarating, that's for sure," he said of round marked by gusting wind, some rain and tough course conditions.