By Kevin Markham
Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas had to battle visa problems and a delayed flight through the US, which saw him land in Glasgow three hours before his tee time.
He took a helicopter to Carnoustie and got to the practice range with 55 minutes to spare. But his clubs had gone missing so his manufacturers had to put together a set of clubs he’d never played with before. As he headed for the first tee he joked with the crowd: “Practice! Practice! Who needs practice?” There wasn’t to be a happy ending either as he finished +5.
At 6.35am, the first group of the day all used irons off the tee, emphasising both the trickiness of the opening hole and the firmness and run of the fairways. Sandy Lyle, at age 60, had the honour of taking the opening tee shot. He split the fairway on his 42nd consecutive Open appearance. His playing partners, Andy Sullivan and Martin Kaymer, also found fairway. Irons off the tee were a popular theme for most players until Thomas Pieters, took driver and drove the green 393 yards away.
Sandy Lyle’s putter is one of the strangest seen on tour in recent years. It looks like he is putting backwards as the shaft is attached to the back of the putterhead, with a slanted shaft. This is the BioMech AccuLock ACE putter. It’s not the first time Sandy has used an odd putter: In 2013 he used an enormous putter known as a Black Swan. It was quickly renamed ‘Brick on a Stick’.
American Kevin Kisner bogeyed the fifth and then eagled the sixth. Four birdies followed and not one further dropped shot. But his penultimate hole was where he showed his grit. A poor iron off the tee pushed him well right, into the rough. His recovery shot found a bunker short of the green from where he splashed out to 18ft. He sank the putt and then had to perform a second sand save on the 18th to keep his score at five under.
The bunkers proved while the course is playing short — drives on several holes were travelling 400 yards — you cannot afford to be in the sand. There are 112 bunkers at Carnoustie (the second has the most, with 10) and they proved a problem on day one. Justin Rose failed to get out of one beside the 14th green and it took him four shots to finish, resulting in a double bogey. On the next hole, his playing partner Jordan Spieth was so close to the bunker face he had to play out almost backwards, hitting it into deep rough. He too made a double bogey. Another hotly fancied golfer, Brooks Koepka, took three to get out of a greenside bunker on the par-three eighth for another double bogey.
On the par-five 14th, Spieth hit his approach shot well left and despite shouts of ‘Fore’, the spectators watching Matt
Kuchar tee off on 15 didn’t notice. The ball bounced behind them and then deflected off someone’s foot, directly onto the 15th tee. And, as the ball rolled across the tee, the spectators turned in completely the wrong direction, in pantomime-symmetry, to see what was happening behind them. No one had a clue.
Sandy Lyle looked like he had forgotten his golf gear and had rushed into the merchandising store to buy some Open Championship branded clothes. Sandy is famous for wearing his rain jacket even when the sun is out, and he wore the jacket for the first three holes.
On the 18th, Brandon Stone hit his approach 60 yards left of the green and out of bounds. It hit the grandstand, bouncing back towards the green. From the fringe, Stone almost made birdie. He finished -3.
Andy Sullivan, in the first group, made the first birdie, rolling in a 20ft putt on the first hole. The first eagle went to Matthew Southgate on the 580-yard par-five sixth, with a 30ft-plus putt. Southgate also eagled the 14th. By 7.15pm there were six eagles on the sixth and six on the 14th.
The early starters today will get the worst of the weather with rain forecast for most of the morning. Winds are expected to be light for the entire day. The late starters may well play in sunshine so even those down the field will have a good shot at making the cut.
You can’t ignore Tiger (10.20am), but other morning groups to watch are Fleetwood, Stenson, Walker (7.30am) and McIlroy, Leishman, Olesen (7.52am).
Afternoon groups will see guys knowing what they need to make the cut. Keep an eye on Spieth, Rose, Aphibarnrat (2.59pm) and Casey, Oosthuizen, Reed (3.21pm).