2014 Open Championship, Day 1
By Torleif Sorenson on 7/18/14
The excitement and joy accompanying the opening round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool was dampened by two major news stories — the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over the war-torn eastern Ukraine, and the launching of a major counter-terrorism operation by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza.

Rory roars

Rory McIlroy grabbed the solo lead on Thursday, continuing his resurgence with a bogey free 66 that included consecutive birdies at 5 and 6. Excellent weather and low winds made it possible for him to nab birdies on the par-5s at Royal Liverpool. His 66 represents McIlroy's best result at the majors in almost two years — and the "Holywood Matinee Idol" knows it:
"It's not like I've shot good scores in first rounds and haven't backed them up before; I'm used to doing that. I just haven't done it recently. We'll see what tomorrow brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.

"Hopefully, it's just one of those things and I'm able to turn it around tomorrow."

Tiger returns

In only his second tournament following microdiscectomy surgery on March 31, Tiger Woods overcame two early bogeys (and a tenuous par-save at the 4th) to surge to a 69, three shots off McIlroy's lead. Woods lit up the second nine like a Christmas tree, reeling off birdies at 11, 12, and 13. Following a bogey at 14, Woods took two more birdies back from Royal Liverpool.

In defense of the title

The "champion golfer for the year" in 2013, Phil Mickelson had a much tougher time of it on Thursday. "Lefty" suffered a bogey at the 7th, then righted himself to get to -1 for the round with consecutive birdies at 9 and 10. But he struggled to tread water, mixing bogeys at 13, 14, and the last to get into the clubhouse at +2 74.

The race for Low Italian

Edoardo Molinari and his younger brother, Francesco don't really have similar golf games. But on Thursday, they both carded 68s by playing largely mistake-free golf. Edoardo bookended a bogey at 12 with birdies at the opening and closing ends of the course. The younger Francesco suffered a bogey right out of the gate (followed by another at the par-4 14th), but got it back not only with four birdies, but also with a lovely eagle at the last.

Unfortunately for them, those excellent 68s were eclipsed by fellow countryman Matteo Manassero, who did as Tiger did, lighting up the par-5s with three birdies. Overall, he sandwiched seven birdies with a pair of bogeys at the 9th and 12th to get in with a 67. Especially impressive was his third shot from the fairway at the first hole, after escaping a pot bunker:



It's not easy being The Big Easy

As we showed you early Thursday morning, Ernie Els had a disastrous start to his 24th Open Championship when his opening tee-shot hit a spectator squarely in the face, spilling a scary amount of blood. Shaken by the experience, Els tripled the opening hole, then bogeyed the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 12th. A late birdie got him into the clubhouse with a 79, but The Big Easy was not taking it easily:
"There was blood everywhere. It was like a bullet coming at him. I obviously felt pretty bad about it. It wasn't nice. I was trying to hit it left, and should have told the starters to move the people back on the left side, but I didn't do that."
Gentleman that he clearly is, Els made sure his unintended victim was taken care of:


But having shot an opening 79, Els may not make the 36-hole cut and been seen on the weekend. And in a comment that may have been only half-joking, Els told reporters that he may have "put the jinx" on playing partners Mickelson (74) and current Masters champion Bubba Watson, who limped into the clubhouse with a see-saw 76.

The contenders

In addition to the aforementioned Molinari brothers, Sergio García, Jim Furyk, and Adam Scott all shot 68, as did two up-and-coming stars, Shane Lowry of Ireland and Brooks Koepka, a 24-year-old European Tour player who hails from the non-Irish-speaking part of Florida.

Golf writer Eamon Lynch (himself from Northern Ireland) had this excellent quip about Koepka and his fine play in recent majors:

The 'Everyman' from Liverpool

Last week, we told you about John Singleton, a resin factory worker from nearby Birkenhead who qualified for this Open Championship the old fashioned way — he earned it. Singleton shot 78, but not before his bosses and co-workers shut down the factory and showed up at Royal Liverpool to cheer him on. Regardless of whether or not he makes the 36-hole cut, Singleton was rightfully enjoying the experience and smiling like a cat at a fish market:
"I shot 6 over, it feels like I shot 6 under. I just played in the Open Championship.

"I'm not some big-time Charlie who is going to win — obviously I'd love to win — I was there to enjoy myself, soak it all up."


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Image via Twitter, The Open Championship


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