Commentary: Royal Liverpool more than holds its own
The opening day of the 143rd Open Championship was one where the world’s best players cautiously manoeuvred themselves into position.
“Guys aren’t going to go really low here,” said Tiger Woods, who was delighted with his opening 69. “We’re going to be bunched. It’s the type of golf course where the scores are going to be bunched.
“That’s the way I think this championship is going to unfold.”
Hoylake’s bunkers are positioned in such a way that discretion is often the better part of valour – or that is at least what the players concluded. That leads to tee shots being left well back and approaches only rarely threatening the flags.
“The game plan is definitely to stay out of the bunkers,” said Rory McIlroy.
It was undoubtedly harder in the afternoon as the wind freshened and shifted direction confusingly. By the time the Rose/Scott/Dufner group made their way down the 18th what had previously been an outstanding birdie chance was now a five to be ground out.
Ian Poulter, for example, had talked about how in practice a pair of 3 irons took him on to the green.
Whereas Adam Scott never saw the fairway, two hooks being followed by a fine pitch and two putts. He was just grateful for his par.
"It was undoubtedly harder in the afternoon as the wind freshened and shifted direction confusingly."
But his 68 was at least the equal of McIlroy’s 66 in the morning. McIlroy made or threatened birdie on almost every hole – when conditions are benign there is surely no finer player in the world.
In full flow, McIlroy was the one player who threatened to provide the expected 64 or 65. That he could leave a few out there and still end the day in sole possession of the lead shows he has a special talent. Not that we did not already know that.
Scott’s round was prosaic by comparison, yet the Australian may well be the better prepared of the two to cope with the strong winds and rain forecast over the next few days. We shall see.
Fewer than 50 players, or to put it another way under a third of the field, emerged from the day under par.
When you bear in mind that the par is a generous 72 and all four of the par 5s were reachable then that is a remarkably low number given the conditions for much of the day.
Had the R&A decided to call this a par 70, which often happens in Majors these days, then only 18 men would be under par.
It just shows that a links course like this one only needs a touch of wind and an element of firmness to the turf to pose a challenge.
Add to that some awkward pin positions and birdies – let alone eagles – were much harder to come by than expected.
There is certainly more wind to come on Friday, and after that we shall see. The R&A may be a little kinder with the pins as a result.
But we have already seen enough to know that the Open champion will have to show patience and no little respect to this historic old links.
That is how it should be.