Rocco Mediate plays from a bunker at No. 7 yesterday at Royal Birkdale where he opened the British Open with a 1-under 69.
Jon Super / AP Enlarge
SOUTHPORT, England - From sunny San Diego to bleak and blustery Royal Birkdale, the expression on Rocco Mediate's face didn't change.
He watched one final birdie tumble into the cup for a 1-under 69 and a three-way share of the lead in the British Open, straightened his 45-year-old back, then dropped his jaw into a smile that said, "How did that just happen?"
Others must have been wondering the same thing yesterday.
Ernie Els was playing some of his best golf in the worst of the weather until taking 45 shots on the back nine and posting an 80, his highest score in nearly two decades at his favorite major.
Phil Mickelson was up to his knees in grass right of the sixth green and never found his ball, taking a triple bogey that sent him to a 79.
Robert Allenby and Graeme McDowell, who watched on television as the early starters suffered through raging wind and stinging rain coming off an angry Irish Sea, must have wondered where all that nasty weather went as they made their way around Birkdale in tamer wind to join Mediate atop the leaderboard.
Stranger still was seeing 53-year-old newlywed Greg Norman in the hunt.
Indeed, how did all that
"I have no explanation for that whatsoever. No idea why that happened," said Mediate, still going strong after his epic playoff loss to Tiger Woods last month in the U.S. Open.
"It was just one of those rounds," he said. "It was just up and down, up and down, and a couple of birdies, and here we are. I would have been ecstatic with 73 or 74 today."
For those who thought his performance at Torrey Pines was merely a mirage, Mediate again found bright lines under leaden skies of the Lancashire Coast by bouncing back from three bogeys on the opening six holes by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 13th, chipping in from off the 17th green for birdie and ending his round with a 20-foot birdie.
"Crazy stuff," he said.
Norman made enough par-saving putts to sustain some momentum, including a six-footer on the final hole that put him at 70 along with Australian protege Adam Scott and Bart Bryant.
The group at 71 included Retief Goosen, who might have played the best golf of anyone.
Goosen awoke at 2 a.m. when rain pelted his windows, and he caught the brunt of the bad weather his entire round. He still managed four birdies and was under par most of the round until a pair of late bogeys.
"How in the [heck] is he
1 under?" Pat Perez said from the warmth of the locker room after an 82. "I would pay to learn how to do that."
The leaders caught a break by getting slightly better weather, although it was by no means easy. The average score in the opening round was about 76 and there were 19 rounds in the 80s.
But they arrived at Royal Birkdale in good form.
McDowell, the first-round leader down the coast at Royal Liverpool in 2006, won the Scottish Open four days ago at Loch Lomond. Allenby lost in a playoff at the Stanford St. Jude Classic in Memphis last month, and tied for third two weeks ago at Congressional.
Even so, the British Open lived up to its billing as the major that sometimes requires the most luck. It wasn't a goofy bounce but the tee times, thanks to weather that shifted along with the tide in the middle of the 15 hours of action.
"We did get the better side of the draw, no doubt about it," Norman said. "When you watch it in the morning, you feel sorry for the guys. But there's times when you say, 'Well, I've been there before. I've been on that side of the draw, too.' It all
balances out, and you have to take advantage of it."
Former Masters champion Mike Weir did his best in the morning, making an eagle on the 17th for a 71.
Sergio Garcia, the betting favorite at Birkdale with Woods on the disabled list, was among the late starters but did not make his first birdie until the par-5 15th and had to settle for a 72. Also at 72 was Brandt Snedeker, who has contended in both majors this year. After five bogeys on the first six holes, he was 3 under the rest of the way.
Now for the gloomy side of this opening round.
"It was miserable, miserable, miserable weather," Vijay Singh said after his 80. "It was just a miserable day."
Mickelson, at No. 2 the highest-ranked player at a major for the first time, was not terribly bothered by his 79 because he figured everyone else would struggle. When the winds died slightly, so did his hopes. He was tied for 123rd.
"You can't play," Simon Dyson said after an 82 while playing in the opening group. "You put a 4-handicapper on that first tee and they'd probably shoot 100. That's no exaggeration. I don't think I've played a par 4 that I couldn't reach with my best drive and my best 3-wood, and there's three of them."
Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson responded to the complaints with a statement as old as this championship.
"Links golf," he said. "Tough day by the seaside."