Mick­el­son on the mark early

First-round 63 breaks course record at Bri­tish Open as Amer­i­cans dom­i­nate

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SAN BOR­DEN Amer­i­cans dom­i­nate con­tin­ues // S5

TROON, SCOT­LAND — Phil Mick­el­son broke the course record at Royal Troon with a round of 8un­der-par 63 on Thurs­day, open­ing a three-shot lead at the Bri­tish Open golf tour­na­ment on a day when favourable con­di­tions led to a run of low scores.

Amer­i­cans held seven of the top eight places on the leader­board when Mick­el­son fin­ished at 18. Mick­el­son’s round could have been even bet­ter: his birdie at­tempt at the fi­nal hole cir­cled the cup and then hung tan­ta­liz­ingly on the lip as Mick­el­son put his hand over his mouth in dis­be­lief.

The birdie would have been his ninth of the round — against no bo­geys — and would have pro­duced the first round of 62 at a ma­jor cham­pi­onship. In­stead, he wound up tied with dozens of play­ers who have posted 63s, most re­cently Hiroshi Iwata in the sec­ond round of last year’s PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Pa­trick Reed led an early bar­rage of low scor­ers, record­ing a 5-un­der 66 on a gor­geous — some might even say unusu­ally placid — morn­ing at Royal Troon.

Reed, who was a re­cent ad­di­tion to the team that will rep­re­sent the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month, made par on his first two holes be­fore hol­ing out from the fair­way for an ea­gle on the par-4 third hole to jump-start his round.

Like most play­ers will this week, he fared bet­ter on the eas­ier open­ing nine, where the wind is gen­er­ally favourable, be­fore grind­ing through the in­ward nine holes, which are largely into the teeth of the winds.

Amer­i­cans have won the last six Opens con­tested at Royal Troon — Todd Hamil­ton was a sur­prise win­ner dur­ing the most re­cent edi­tion, in 2004 — and Reed was not alone among his com­pa­tri­ots in start­ing strong. Justin Thomas made birdies on his first five holes be­fore clos­ing with a 1-over 36 on the back nine to fin­ish at 67. Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel also recorded 67s, while Rickie Fowler was in a group at 69.

Rory McIl­roy, the four-time ma­jor win­ner from North­ern Ire­land, posted 32 on his front nine but en­dured an up-and-down back nine, dou­ble bo­gey­ing the par-4 13th, bo­gey­ing No. 14 and then mak­ing birdie on the 15th. He fin­ished with a 2-un­der 69.

Justin Rose of Eng­land was two shots be­hind Reed af­ter a 68. Jor­dan Spi­eth, who won the Masters and U.S. Open last year, shot 71. Dustin John­son, who won the U.S. Open last month, was even af­ter 18.

The con­di­tions cer­tainly helped most of the play­ers. Bri­tish Opens are of­ten marked by soak­ing rains and gusty winds, both of which are fore­cast for Fri­day, but the sun shone brightly when Colin Mont­gomerie, the vet­eran Scot­tish golfer who is an honorary mem­ber at Troon, hit the open­ing tee shot of the tour­na­ment at 6:35 a.m.

Mont­gomerie, who dom­i­nated the Euro­pean Tour for years but never won a ma­jor tour­na­ment, is a lo­cal favourite but did not have a mem­o­rable open­ing: He ended up in a pot bunker on the first hole and made a dou­ble bo­gey. Un­daunted, Mont­gomerie bounced back with five birdies over the next eight holes and fin­ished at even-par 71.

“I was 3-un­der on the front nine, and 3-over on the back nine, and that’s par for both,” Mont­gomerie said.

He added: “And re­mem­ber, this hasn’t shown any teeth, this course, at all to­day. This is a three out of 10 job here. To­mor­row, we’re talk­ing seven, eight out of 10 here. And it’s go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent.”

Reed, who be­gan his round about 90 min­utes af­ter Mont­gomerie, be­gan by hook­ing his open­ing drive left — not how he planned it since he was hit­ting a 4-iron off the tee — but re­sponded by hit­ting a wedge on to the green to make par.

Two holes later, he had the ex­act same yardage — 139 yards — and, feel­ing com­fort­able, bounced his ap­proach straight into the cup.

“I al­ready kind of knew what to do be­cause I had it two holes ago, and I hap­pened to hit it right at the flag,” Reed said. “I didn’t see how it went in. But af­ter watch­ing the screens, I think it two- or three-hopped into the hole, and it’s al­ways good to get you go­ing.”

Of course, not all the early starters were able to cap­i­tal­ize. Paul Dunne, a young Ir­ish­man who stunned the golf world as an am­a­teur when he en­tered the fi­nal round of the Open last year as the leader, shot 77.

David Du­val, a for­mer No. 1 player who cap­ti­vated crowds a year ago with a third-round 67, opened with an 82.

MIKE EHRMANN, GETTY IMAGES

Phil Mick­el­son of the United States re­acts af­ter his birdie putt nar­rowly missed the hole on the 18th at Royal Troon in Troon, Scot­land, on Thurs­day.

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