Commentary: Stick or twist for Open rewards?July 18, 2014 News & Tour
The field are still to decide what the best way is to negotiate their way around Royal Liverpool
Other than a certain Rory McIlroy this was a day of uncertainty. Uncertainty about the weather, uncertainty about how aggressive to be from the tee and uncertainty about what would constitute a solid two-round total.
As so often in golf, it was Tiger Woods who set the example and the remainder who followed him.
Several years ago the 14-time Major champion established the accepted wisdom of preparing for the biggest events by not playing the week before. Everyone else copied.
In 2006 he conquered a scorched Hoylake by leaving the driver in the bag and laying up short of the fairway bunkers from the tee. Now everyone else is doing the same.
Perish the thought that Woods’ strategy back then was at least partially determined by a lack of confidence in his driver. In other words, it was the right strategy for him but not necessarily for others.
In 2006 Woods conquered a scorched Hoylake by leaving the driver in the bag and laying up short of the fairway bunkers from the tee. Now everyone else is doing the same.
And anyway, eight years on and the course is playing somewhat differently to then. The fairways are not as fiery and the rough is significantly juicier. There is also more in the way of wind. What worked then might not necessarily work now.
Yet we are seeing very little aggressive play so far and that is one of the reasons why a course in simply perfect condition, with a quartet of reachable par 5s, in warm and no more than breezy weather to date has proved so awkward to score well on.
For the record McIlroy hit six drivers on Friday and has only hit 16 of 28 fairways yet seemingly has had a makeable putt for birdie on pretty much every hole.
If 2006 had never happened, you sense the field would collectively be much more inclined to try to overpower Hoylake like they do most other courses they encounter. But it did and they are unsuitably respectful.
There are other factors, because the R&A are skilful at studying the conditions and selecting awkward pin positions.
There is also more out of bounds here than the players are perhaps used to elsewhere – it is a clear threat on at least the 3rd, 8th, 10th and 18th holes.
But there still seems a reluctance to push hard for eagles and birdies.
Then there is the ever-changing weather forecast, which seems to suggest that a violent storm or gusting winds is only ever a few hours away.
One side of the draw seemed to have a clear advantage and then the other.
Certainly, the best scores on day one came from the morning starters, but the idea that the wind would relent the minute Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose signed their cards was a fanciful one.
It was hard work for all the players, not least because the first three holes give away very little. It is the par-5 5th before an obvious chance suggests itself to give a round some momentum.
In fact, on Friday seven of the hardest nine holes were on the front nine – including the most difficult five.
So by the time most players reached the scorable middle section, let alone the two par 5s at the end, it seemed to be more a matter of survival than it did going low and putting the final touches to a 64 or a 65.
At some point it seems inevitable that at least one or two rounds will be at that level. But as we head into the weekend we are still waiting to see it. No wonder the leaderboard looks so bunched. Other than a certain Rory McIlroy.