Like the old joke about the man who complained it was “fierce slippy out there” on the ice rink, Ireland’s sextet of stars could have no complaints about the R&A set-up as they slithered off the leaderboard on day one of The Open.
Darren Clarke’s one over par 72 was the best of the bunch as Pádraig Harrington hit a 73, Shane Lowry a three over 74, Graeme McDowell a 75, Gareth Maybin a 78 and Rory McIlroy a disastrous 79.
McIlroy and Lowry had least cause for complaint as they went out in the best of the early conditions when the greens still had some moisture and the wind was benign.
But there was no moaning from the other four despite the fact that a 15mph steady west wind dried out the course and turned Muirfield’s already slick greens into glassy hazards.
On hearing that Ian Poulter and Thomas Bjorn had criticised the tough pin positions, Harrington said: “If you didn’t expect to get that going out there this week, shame on you. In ideal conditions, there are going to be some tough pins. That’s it.
“When I was going around in my practice rounds, I was looking for the tough pins because this was always going to happen.
“At the end of the day, the forecast is good and the R&A got the scoring they want and the pins they want. That’s exactly what they would have looked for.”
The two time Open winner two putted the fifth for birdie to be one under through seven holes before a bunkered tee shot cost him a bogey at the eighth
He two putted again for birdie at the par-five ninth to turn in one under but bogeyed the 10th off a perfect tee shot and then dropped back-to-back shots at the 13th (three putts) and 14th (bad drive).
Harrington said: “It was tough and the greens were really, really quick. I think I used my putter 37 times. And I putted well! I putted really well to use my putter 37 times. I would consider I putted awesome.
“A couple of putts I thought were struggling to get the hole went six and eight feet by. You had to pay attention.
“I nearly holed my second shot on 18 and had no more than 15 feet and to be honest, if somebody had offered me two putts, I’d have said OK, I’ll take that.”
Clarke made three bogeys and a birdie in his last five holes, but was still relieved to card a one over 72 after getting up and down from greenside sand for a bogey five at the last.
“It’s unbelievably tough out there — brutal in places — but I have to say I really enjoyed it,” Clarke said. “I played very well for the most part but it was a big challenge if you got above the hole to say the least.”
McDowell made two birdies, two bogeys and two double bogeys in his 75 but refused to complain as playing partner Tiger Woods crafted a two under 69
“The pins are fair but it’s literally like an ice rink around some of the holes,” McDowell said. “I couldn’t single out a pin that I thought was unfair but if you got on the wrong side of them, they could make you look very, very silly.”
McDowell birdied the par-five fifth and bounced back from a three putt bogey at the sixth by holing a 40 foot bomb at the eighth.
But he then racked up a double bogey seven at the ninth after tangling twice with the heavy rough and made another double at the 15th after another bad tee shot.
“The only thing I did wrong this afternoon was compound the errors when I did get out of position,” McDowell said after a frustrating bogey at the 18th. “It’s disappointing but I’ll regroup and get back out there in the morning.”
Lowry was one under with 10 holes to go but bogeyed the ninth and then dropped three shots on the spin from the 14th — including a “headless” three-putt on the 16th — to leave himself struggling to make the cut.
“I just didn’t play well all day, I struggled to find the club-face and bottom grooved a lot of iron shots,” Lowry said. “You can’t play average on this golf course and hope to shoot a good score.”
Maybin was eight over par with the tough last five holes still to play but did well to finish with four pars and a birdie at the 17th for his 78.
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