Darren Clarke, who threw away a chance to win the event on the 72nd hole last year, had a terrible opening day of the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head Island yesterday, closing at five over par.
Clarke came into the tournament on the back of a decent performance at the Masters, but he bogeyed his second hole – the 11th – but then birdied the next.
Three dropped shots in a row from the 14th then left him four over as he turned in 38.
A birdie at the par-four third should have been the catalyst to stage a recovery but bogeys at the par-five fifth, short seventh and ninth – where he missed a four-foot par putt – saw Clarke finish with a 76.
American leader Vaughn Taylor’s eight-under-par round of 63 began inauspiciously as, starting from the 10th, he carded five straight pars before his day burst into life with four successive birdies to turn in 31.
A bogey-five at the first hole appeared to have ended that run but he bounced back to register five birdies in eight holes – finishing at the ninth by hitting his 138-yard approach to seven feet.
It gave him a one-stroke lead over compatriot Jim Furyk, who had a flawless round which included seven birdies.
The American felt much more relaxed after the tough examination at Augusta last week and he felt that benefited him.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything in particular,” said Taylor “I think after last week, experiencing The Masters and a major championship, that wherever it may be the next week it’s going to be a lot less going on and it’s going to feel easier and more relaxed.”
“The greens are pretty soft, there is no wind and if you’re hitting it straight you have a lot of short irons and wedges. You can definitely score if you’re hitting the ball well.”
Scoring was not so easy for some of the other big names in the field, with world number five Ernie Els managing only a level-par round of 71 – which included an eagle-three at the 502-yard second – while defending champion Peter Lonard had two birdies and two bogeys in registering the same score.
Ireland’s Graeme McDowell played solidly with 14 straight pars before a birdie four at the 15th took him into red figures, where he remained after three more pars. Paul McGinley could only manage a 71, and has it all to do to fight his way back into contention.
Two of England’s Ryder Cup hopefuls, Brian Davis and Ian Poulter, did what many of their rivals could not and shoot under par.
Londoner Davis and 2004 Ryder Cup star Poulter both finished two under par after rounds of 69 – six behind Taylor.
Sweden’s Mathias Gronberg was the highest-placed European on an American-dominated leaderboard after he shot a four-under-par 67.
Davis bogeyed the 10th, his first, but picked up shots at the 12th and 16th - both par fours – to turn in 34.
Another dropped shot at the par-four first was then followed by three birdies in six holes but he missed an 11-foot putt for par at the eighth for a bogey five to fall back to two under.
Poulter, who missed the first major of the season last week having dropped out of the world’s top 50, enjoyed a bogey-free opening nine of 33 with birdies at the third, par-five fifth and the short par-four ninth.
His only bogey came at the 436-yard 11th but he played regulation golf for the remainder of his round.
Collated first round scores in the USPGA Tour Verizon Heritage, Harbour Town Golf Links, South Carolina United States of America (USA unless stated, par 71):
63 Vaughn Taylor
64 Jim Furyk
65 Billy Mayfair, Tom Pernice Jnr., Duffy Waldorf
66 Brian Gay, Chris Riley, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Aaron Baddeley (Aus)
67 J.B. Holmes, Jonathan Byrd, Mathias Gronberg (Swe), Ben Crane, Arjun Atwal (Ind)
68 Billy Andrade, Jerry Kelly, Brad Faxon, J.L. Lewis, Woody Austin, Paul Azinger, Loren Roberts, Fred Funk, Brett Quigley
69 Corey Pavin, Jonathan Kaye, Chris DiMarco, Davis Love III, Jeff Maggert, Scott Verplank, Joey Sindelar, Ian Poulter (Eng), Jose Coceres (Arg), Brian Davis (Eng), Todd Fischer
70 Robert Gamez, Justin Leonard, John Daly, Bo Van Pelt, Mathew Goggin (Aus), Bart Bryant, Graeme McDowell (Irl), Bob Tway, Greg Owen (Eng), Bill Haas, Rodney Pampling (Aus), Robert Allenby (Aus), Bernhard Langer (Ger), Chad Campbell, Bob Estes, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Charles Warren, Nick Price (Zim)
71 Steve Jones, Jesper Parnevik (Swe), Steve Flesch, Kevin Na (Kor), Heath Slocum, Paul McGinley (Irl), Camilo Villegas (Col), Frank Lickliter II, Lee Janzen, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose (Eng), Paul Stankowski, Thomas Levet (Fra), Peter Lonard (Aus), Ernie Els (Rsa), Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Jeff Gove, D.J. Trahan, Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa), Mark Calcavecchia, Stephen Leaney (Aus), Briny Baird, Joe Durant, Dudley Hart, John Senden (Aus)
72 Glen Day, Hidemichi Tanaka (Jpn), Brian Harman, Peter Jacobsen, Tim Clark (Rsa), Nathan Green (Aus), Dean Wilson, Kent Jones, Craig Stadler, Doug Barron
73 Patrick Sheehan, Tim Petrovic, Carl Pettersson (Swe), John Rollins, Troy Matteson, Ryuji Imada (Jpn), Charley Hoffman, Tag Ridings, Steve Lowery, Ryan Palmer, Shane Bertsch
74 Mark Brooks, Richard S Johnson (Swe), Stephen Behr, Notah Begay III, Phil Tataurangi (Nzl), Daniel Chopra (Swe), Craig Perks (Nzl), Bubba Dickerson, Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Harrison Frazar
75 Henrik Bjornstad (Nor), Jeff Brehaut, Robert Damron, Todd Hamilton
76 Wes Short jr., Brent Geiberger, Nick Faldo (Eng), Darren Clarke (Irl), John Riegger, Jason Gore, Jay Haas
77 John Huston, Ted Purdy, Nick O’Hern (Aus)
78 David Edwards, Nick Watney, Rich Weston.