Notebook: Captain Lehman shows his players the way
Plus, Darren Clarke saves his day with a brilliant back nine, Colin Montgomerie lets a good scoring opportunity slip away, Seve Ballesteros making a surprisingly positive return, Padraig Harrington has to change his strategy, and more.
By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
HOYLAKE, England -- If there is one point U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman has made abundantly clear throughout the season, it's that he won't use one of his two captain's picks on himself.
However, if he could play his way onto the team, he would consider taking on two roles at the K Club this September, as the United States tries to win the Ryder Cup for the first time since that magical Sunday at the Country Club in Brookline seven years ago.
Currently, Captain Lehman -- winner of the 1996 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes -- is No. 25 in the U.S. standings.
After a 4-under-par 68 in the first round, Lehman looked more like the type of guy the Americans could use playing on the course as opposed to playing No. 1 cheerleader.
"That's all I hear about," Lehman joked, when asked about the Ryder Cup after his round. "Nearly every person over here is saying, 'we wish you luck this week, but not in September.' That's the standard comment I'm getting, 100 times a day, 200 times a day, or maybe more."
It's all in good fun, though. Right?
"Yeah, very good," he said. "People are so enthusiastic about it and it's said with such good intent that you can tell that they are going to enjoy it, and that they respect our team and they have good humor towards me. So, I really enjoy it. Some of it goes back and forth, too, and I'll come back with something like, 'well, at least you'll get a top-2 finish!,' and it's all in good fun."
Does the thought of making the team contribute to Lehman's play?
"No," he insisted. "If I'm in contention, it's because I'm playing well. It's not Ryder Cup-related, I can assure you. My role as Ryder Cup captain is pretty special and I'm hoping to see some great scoring by some of my guys, and I would love to see the American guys light it up this week."
GOOD START FOR LEFTY: Phil Mickelson, a three-time major champion and winner of two of the last three big ones, got his Open off to a solid start on Thursday. He went off early and strode around Royal Liverpool in 3-under 69, and trails first-round leader Graeme McDowell by three shots.
"The course was playing as nice as it could because we had a little rain last night and the wind wasn't too strong, and I got off to a good start," Mickelson said. "I was 4-under after 10 and playing well. But I hit some poor shots coming in and put the ball in a few spots I didn't want to be, and it cost me a few strokes. But at 3-under, we've got three rounds left and I'll see if I can make some more birdies this weekend."
There's no question that of the 156 players in the field, none has put in more time learning the intricacies of Royal Liverpool than Mickelson, who made a trip over to England to scout out the course just days after the U.S. Open.
"There were some areas that certainly helped me make some putts," said Mickelson, talking about how his preparation translated into his opening round. "Reading of the greens and shots, too. There were some times when I knew I didn't want to go places, like right on 14, and that's where I hit it. And left on 18, that's where I hit it. So I have to execute a little better."
DEFEATED MAN: Irishman Padraig Harrington sounded like a defeated man after shooting a 3-over 75 in the first round that left him nine shots off the pace.
"It was just one of those days," he said. "I couldn't do much right. It was just one of those days. I didn't pick any right shots, I picked the wrong club and all of that sort of thing in one day."
Asked if he had played himself out of the tournament, Harrington pulled no punches.
"I would think so," he said. "Yes, oh yes."
So what's the strategy for the rest of the championship?
"Now I'll try to play well tomorrow and make the cut and plod along in a nondescript way," he said.
CLARKE SAVES HIS DAY: Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke did not get off to an ideal start in this 135th Open Championship. The stocky, cigar-smoking, crazy-clothes-wearing man, who loves his exotic cars and his beer, went out in 1-over 36.
If ever there was a day to do some scoring on an Open course, Thursday was the day with benign conditions. Clarke attacked the back nine with four birdies and no bogeys, and wound up with a 3-under 69 to match his playing partner, Mickelson.
"Obviously the back nine was a lot better than the front," Clarke said. "I had quite a few poor shots in the middle of the front nine. I managed to hang in there and get some good up and downs. I hit some good shots on the back nine. Sixty-nine is a pretty decent start."
MONTY LETS ONE SLIP AWAY: Colin Montgomerie, still in search of his first major championship, will have to put the birdie-pedal to the metal the rest of the week if he has any hopes of ending his major-less drought at Royal Liverpool.
With a putter that betrayed him, Monty opened with a 1-over 73 and is seven shots behind the leader.
How frustrating was the start, especially with the calm conditions?
"Very, very, very," he said.
Will you use a new putter, Monty?
"No, not necessarily," he said. "It's the puttee, me being the puttee."
Was it a missed opportunity?
"Sure," he said. "Yes, it was scorable today, this morning, and I didn't score, unfortunately. Now I have a bit of hard work to try to get 66 or something tomorrow to get myself back into it."
BUENO, SEVE: Three-time Open champ Seve Ballesteros is at Royal Liverpool competing in the Open this week for the first time since 2001 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
The horrible play of the Spaniard in recent years has sadly become nearly as famous as the magical short game he possessed in his heyday. By his standards lately, his opening 74 was actually quite good.
"Yes, I did," said Ballesteros when asked if he played better than he expected to. "Obviously I didn't have much confidence. It's been a long time since I played competitive golf and playing the Open is a lot of pressure. It was difficult."
Making the round all the more special was the fact that he had his son Baldomero caddying.
"I tried as hard as I could," Ballesteros said. "I tried to make good shots and having my son next to me was good for support. It was nice. He's a good player. He knows the game very well. His distance is very much like me, so he was helping me with club selection. Good players are good caddies. He learned some good things today about links courses."
FUNNY ENGLISHMAN: It may have been a surprise to many to see Englishman Anthony Wall near the top of the leader board throughout the first round after his 5-under 67, but not to the man himself. Wall was asked if he thought he'd be leading the Open.
"No reason why not," he said confidently. "I have two legs and two arms. I played some good golf. You need luck. That's the main thing and here I am."
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