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Graeme McDowell, who won the Scottish Open on Sunday, stayed hot on a cool and rainy day at Birkdale. (Redington/Getty Images)

Round 1 Recap: Morning horrors, afternoon delights

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Heavy downpours made Royal Birkdale a monster early in Thursday's first round of the 137th Open Championship. However, when the rains lifted in the afternoon, things got markedly easier and new names hit the leaderboard.

By T.J. Auclair, PGATOUR.COM Interactive Producer

SOUTHPORT, England -- Mother Nature stole the show Thursday, as she often does in this part of the world, during the first round of the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

In the morning, she was exceptionally cranky, but as the day wore on, she eased her wrath.

Players with morning tee times awoke to rain and howling winds. Talk about getting the day off to a bad start. There's no truth to the rumor that this is what Charles Darwin was talking about when he developed his "survival of the fittest" theory.

But, we should note, Darwin was, in fact, British.

Nevertheless, birdies were as common as pokes of sunshine through the thick gray blanket of clouds -- which is to say, they were rare occurances on Thursday. At the end of the day, only three players produced rounds of the sub-par variety. Those three also happen to be the co-leaders -- Rocco Mediate, Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby, who all fired 1-under-par 69s.

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That trio was the exception to the rule and -- not surprisingly -- all three had afternoon tee times.

Check out pre-tournament favorites Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Both had morning tee times and both could be catching a plane back home following Friday's second round. Mickelson shot an ugly 9-over 79, which was his highest first-round score at an Open Championship in relation to par.

Els was worse. The 2002 "Champion Golfer of the Year" trudged along to the tune of a 10-over 80. Clearly that tune was out of key.

Then there was a battered Vijay Singh -- a man who like Mickelson and Els has won three majors -- he, too, got fried like fish 'n chips with an 80.

So how did that go, Veej?

"It was miserable, miserable, miserable weather," Singh said. "It was just a miserable day."

But not all the lads who teed off in the morning left chapped from the bad weather, a bad round and an all-around bad day.

Jump in the time machine, folks. First, we'll be setting the clock back to 1983. That's when a world-beater named Tom Watson had his name inscribed on his fifth and final (we think) Claret Jug right here at Birkdale.

Twenty-five years later -- and older at age 58 -- the legend was at it again, showing why there was no one in his day who could negotiate the elements quite like Watson.

After a birdie on the first hole, the name, "WATSON" was actually in the No. 1 spot on the leaderboard -- and it wasn't Bubba. He's not here this week.

That caused a stir and Watson never let his followers down, sticking Mother Nature with a jab and a 4-over 74 -- one of the better scores from the morning wave.

"I have plenty of experience on Open Championship courses but in conditions like this you have to judge the wind right," Watson said, and all the other players in the field should have been paying attention. "I did that today. If you don't do that and you hit some bad shots, your swing goes off and your timing goes and that's it."

Despite a strained right wrist, defending champion Padraig Harrington turned in the same number, as did 1998 Birkdale winner, 51-year-old Mark O'Meara.

Let's take one more stop on this Magical Mystery Tour. After all, we are in the land of the Beatles. This time, turn the dial back to the late-80s/early-90s, the heyday of "The Shark," Greg Norman.

Norman is a two-time Open champion. At age 53 and in better shape than most 25-year-olds, Norman played the part of his former larger-than-life-No. 1 self on Thursday, dazzling the knowledgable crowds and making wise decision after wise decision as he wove through the wispy Birkdale rough and managed to post an unthinkable even-par 70, the same score shot by a young man who grew up idolizing him and eventually stole his caddie, Adam Scott.

We checked the calendar and the British Senior Open is in fact two weeks away. Apparently Watson, O'Meara and Norman don't know. Please don't tell them. Everyone is eating this up.

"I don't play much," said Norman, the show-off. "I don't practice much. I probably practice more tennis than golf. But at the same time, there's something about this event that stimulates you."

While Thursday will surely be "A Hard Day's Night," for many, there are a few who will be hoping that Friday turns out a lot like "Yesterday."

TRIVIA QUESTION

trivia
Can you answer this? The 2008 Open Championship is the ninth to be contested at Royal Birkdale. In the previous eight, only two countries have come away with the Claret Jug. Which two countries are they and how many did each win? See answer at bottom of page

SHOT OF THE DAYROUND OF THE DAY

It's not every day that a bogey takes top-shot honors, but with the conditions they way they were at Royal Birkdale bogey feels like par. With that said, Lee Westwood's chip-in on No. 6 was the best of the day. You see, Westwood wasn't even supposed to be chipping. He marked, cleaned and replaced the ball on the green, but before he could putt the wind blew the ball off the green and down the slope in front of the green. Under the rules, Westwood was forced to play the ball from its new position and made the most of it.

Rocco Mediate's 1-under 69. There were three 69s recorded in the first round, but Mediate's stands out. Obviously the playoff with Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open -- even though he lost -- has given Mediate incredible confidence. It's fitting that the solid play has carried over into the third major of the year and it's also a testament to Mediate's all-around game. You've got to be a complete player if you're on the PGA TOUR, but there's a vast difference between a U.S. Open course and an Open Championship course.
EASIEST HOLETOUGHEST HOLE
The 572-yard, par-5 17th. It played to a scoring average of 4.812. There were two eagles, 60 birdies, 62 pars, 25 bogeys and five double bogeys.The 499-yard, par-4 sixth. It played to a scoring average of 4.891. There were four birdies, 38 pars, 88 bogeys, 23 double bogeys and one "other."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

trivia
"If this is the summer, I couldn't live here." -- the always quotable Boo Weekley, referring to Thursday's dreadful weather, after shooting a 10-over 80
What the leaders said
PlayerPositionScoreComment
Rocco MediateT11 under"I have no explanation for that [opening-round 69] whatsoever. No idea why that happened."
Graeme McDowellT11 under"I think playing late on Thursday is quite good because you can acclimatize yourself to how the scoring is. If it's a score-fest and 9 under is leading, I know I've got to fire at some pins, play aggressively. But when you're watching like I was watching this morning at, say, 10 o'clock, you're acclimatizing yourself to the fact that it's going to be a battle of survival out there."
Robert AllenbyT11 under"Obviously it was pretty tough. I mean, I got up this morning and saw what was going on out there and checked it out. That's the beauty of this tournament. It comes on at 9 o'clock in the morning and you can watch for like two or three hours before your tee-off time and just keep a close eye on the conditions and see what people are doing on certain holes."
Greg NormanT4even par"I made the comment before my round today that I think this is the best British Open I've ever played in, and I think the golf course has been set up by the R&A about the fairest and toughest I've ever seen. It really doesn't favor one particular player, or one particular style of player. Sometimes you don't get those kinds of golf courses for major championships, and this is a very well-balanced golf course."

THE RUNDOWN
On the first day of the 137th Open Championship, there were fantastic scores, good scores, bad scores and downright ugly scores. Here are some notables in each category. Click on their names to see their respective scorecard:

The fantastic: You've got to hand it to Rocco Mediate. The man who won hearts the world over following his epic playoff duel with Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open last month at Torrey Pines fired an incredible 1-under 69 on Thursday. And he finished it off in style, too, with birdies on his final two holes.

"There's a few things stacked against you," Mediate said. "It doesn't really matter what I learned at Torrey Pines. It doesn't matter how you get it done. Today was by no means pretty. I made every single putt. I hit some beautiful pitches. I chipped the ball in on 17, which is a joke. I'm trying to make 5 and it goes in."

BY THE NUMBERS
10The number of holes played by '85 Open champ Sandy Lyle before withdrawing. He shot an 11-over 45 on the front.
35As in "even par" on the back nine at Birkdale, which Mike Weir shot despite a double bogey on No. 16. He followed it with an eagle on No. 17.
42The number of players out of the 156-man field who made their respective Open Championship debut on Thursday.

Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby
were also fantastic, matching Mediate's 69.

The good: Former major champions Mike Weir and Retief Goosen each managed a 1-over 71.

"Starting the day I would have definitely taken 1-over par given the weather we had when we started," Weir said. "It got a little bit better as the back nine went on with the rain stopping. It was tough to keep dry and the wind was just as strong as I've ever seen it."

The bad: Geoff Ogilvy and Justin Leonard -- two former major champions and TOUR winners this season -- struggled, both shooting a 7-over 77.

The ugly: Phil Mickelson
opened with a 9-over 79; Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, John Daly and Boo Weekley all shot 10-over 80.

"Talk about my round, that's not a fun topic of conversation," Mickelson said. "It was tough for everybody. When I was 6 over through six holes, I didn't think it was that bad a start relative to what the field would do. I thought most guys would be about 2-, 3-, 4 over through six holes.

"I think that when I was playing, I thought anything in the 70s would be a pretty good score, and I was able to do that," he added. "But I don't think it's going to hold up as well as I thought."

WATSON TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
Tom Watson and the Open Championship go way back. Between 1975 and 1983, Watson won five of them. He's a legend, which we all know. Just like in the U.S., the crowds in the U.K. respect and adore Watson. At 58 years old, it's nice to have him still knocking it around with the younger guys at the Open. But on Thursday, he was knocking a lot of them out.

As if jumping into a time machine and setting it to the late-70s/early-80s, Watson managed a brilliant round of 4-over 74. To make things even more impressive, he pulled this off despite playing in the not so pleasant morning wave.

"I'd say par today must have been 74, that's what I think," said Watson, and who's going to argue with him? "This golf course's into-the-wind holes ate my lunch today. I didn't do well on the into-the-wind holes, but I played the downwind holes pretty well with the exception of 13 [a 499-yard par 4 where he made bogey]. I'm going to have to do better on the into-the-wind holes."

Royal Birkdale is a special place for Watson. It was the site of his final Open Championship win in 1983. However, don't expect him to get all nostalgic after a solid opening round.

"I'm still playing competitive golf and doing the best I can and I'll save the memories for later," he said.

FOLLOW THE LEADER
Here's a look at how the first-round leaders/co-leaders have fared in the previous eight Open Championships hosted by Royal Birkdale. Note that Lee Trevino in 1971 was the only first-round leader at Birkdale to come away with a win.

YearPlayerRnd. 1 ScoreFinish
1998Tiger Woods653rd
John Huston65T11
1991Seve Ballesteros66T9
1983Craig Stadler64T12
1976Seve Ballesteros69T2
Christy O'Connor Jr.69T5
Norio Suzuki69T10
1971Lee Trevino69Win
Tony Jacklin693rd
Howie Johnson69T20
Vicente Fernandez69T25
1965Tony Lema68T5
1961Dai Rees682nd
Kel Nagle68T5
Harold Henning68T10
1954Sam King69T8
Thomas Spence69T12
TRIVIA ANSWER

trivia

The United States has won the Open at Royal Birkdale five times, while Australia has done it three times -- twice by Peter Thomson.

THOUGHTS TO PONDER FOR FRIDAY

1. Will the weather get better? After what the early-wave players experienced on Thursday morning, it would seem as though it can't get any worse. But, this is the Open Championship and Royal Birkdale sits right beside the Irish Sea, which means it could get worse. Expect to see plenty of umbrellas again on Friday where the forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of rain all day.

2. Will Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els be headed home for the weekend? Both players were big-time favorites coming in. As the saying goes, "You can't win a tournament on the first day, but you can lose it." We're not saying these guys have lost it just yet, but they'll have plenty of work to do on Friday. Mickelson opened with a 9-over 79, while Els shot a 10-over 80.

3. Will Greg Norman continue to channel his old self? The former world No. 1, who has played little if at all over the past few years, was outstanding in the first round with an even-par 70. Can he repeat the performance in the second round, or is that too much to ask of a 53-year-old on a demanding course like Royal Birkdale? Granted, even at 53, the Shark is in better shape than many people half his age.

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