GULLANE, United Kingdom – Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez set a blistering early pace on Thursday as the 142nd British Open got underway at Muirfield.
The 49-year-old crowd pleaser, who missed the first four months of the year after breaking his leg while skiing in December, took advantage of perfect early morning playing conditions to post a three-under 68 and take the early clubhouse lead.
Jimenez went out in five under 31 and was well on track to become the first player in the history of golf to break 63 in a major tournament.
But Muirfield’s tougher back nine was an alltogether different prospect and Jimenez, who will be eligible for the senior tour at the start of next year, bogeyed 12 and 16 to settle for a 68.
Also in the clubhouse early and under par was 2004 winner Todd Hamilton of the United States, who had a 69, and Oliver Fisher of England, who had a 70 playing in the lead group.
“If the wind stays like it is, it’s really not too difficult,” Hamilton said of the course.
“If you can take advantage of the par-5s and throw some other birdies in, and stay away from the high numbers, somebody is I think going to shoot a good score.”
Out on the course 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson used his supreme iron play to speed to five under through nine holes including an eagle three at the fifth.
Fellow American Dustin Johnson was at three under after 14 holes, with another Spaniard, Rafael Cabrera-Bello on the same mark with two holes to play.
Playing conditions at the famed East Lothian links were ideal under clear skies and with little or no breeze, but there were still some nightmare starts as both local lad Lloyd Saltman and rising American Brooks Koepka racked up eights at the first.
Rory McIlroy’s quest to reproduce the supreme form he showed late last year continued as he struggled early on.
Playing with a new pear-shaped Nike driver, the 24-year-old Ulsterman was two over after six holes before he bagged his first birdie of the day at the par-three seventh to reach the turn in 37.
McIlroy’s playing partner, four-time major winner Phil Mickelson, had birdies at the second and third but a bogey at the eighth saw him go out in 35.
Newly-crowned US Open champion Justin Rose also had a poor start going out in two over 38 and heading back in with three straight pars.
Tournament favorite Tiger Woods had a mid-afternoon tee-off time in the company of two other fancied players and major winners, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen.
The 37-year-old American, who insists he has fully recovered from an elbow injury that has sidelined him since last month’s US Open, is seeking to win his 15th major title, over five years after his last.
That would take him to within three of the all-time record of major titles set by Jack Nicklaus in 1986.
Also out later and playing together were Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, England’s former world number one Luke Donald and American world number six Matt Kuchar of the United States.