Saturday, August 13, 2022

Open Championship 2022: Scottie Scheffler’s historic march, Cameron Young’s contention lead Round 1 takeaways

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The first round of the 150th Open Championship is in the books, and it was about as wacky as one would expect from a 15-hour day of links golf at St. Andrews. Several storylines emerged, the most prominent among them being Rory McIlroy’s quest for a second Open and fifth career major championship after getting off to his third consecutive hot start in a major this year.

McIlroy shot 66 on Thursday in the easiest part of the day and sits alone in second, two back of leader Cameron Young. The rookie has plenty of staying power at the top. The big-bopping former Wake Forest Demon Deacon contended at this year’s PGA Championship and has been one of the best neophytes on the PGA Tour all season. He hammers the ball and led the field in strokes gained tee to green on Thursday.

“I don’t know [if experience in contending at the PGA Championship helps],” said Young. “I think any time you’re around the lead in a major championship or any PGA Tour event, frankly, you get more and more comfortable every time. Whether I’m leading by three or one or four back after today, I’ll sleep just fine. I feel like I’ve been around, even though it’s only been most of the year, I’ve been around the lead a good bit, and I think we’ll just take tomorrow as it comes. That’s really all I can control.”

Young is the ultimate one-shot-at-a-time guy, but his experience at Southern Hills will likely help more than he thinks. He’s a ball-striking fiend, which is what this track demands. Young might not win this Open, but he won’t be going anywhere over the next few days.

Let’s take a look at eight more takeaways from the first round at St. Andrews.

2. Scottie Scheffler’s march towards history: The No. 1 player in the world has been talking all week about how he doesn’t feel as if he’s perceived as the No. 1 player in the world. That changes with a win at St. Andrews given Scheffler would join Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods as the only golfers with five wins including the Masters and The Open in the same year. He putted his face off on Thursday, but he struck it well, too. Scheffler to be feared at the top of the leaderboard.

3. Wave on wave: The Old Course played harder and harder and harder as Thursday wore on. Every quarter of waves saw a more difficult track. Some of that was because the Old baked as the day advanced, and some of it was because the wind whipped late and it was legitimately cold by the time the last group was finishing. It seems right now like early-late is the proper wave.

4. Pace of play: Rounds were taking over six hours on Thursday, which is absolutely insane. Part of this is due to the routing out at the turn (Nos. 7-11) and how congested it can get (not to mention how many greens are doubled up). Some of it, though, was due to players being waved up on so many holes because were bounding all the way to holes. Regardless, it was tough to experience.

“It’s just a joke, isn’t it? Like six hours … this just shouldn’t be happening ever in golf,” said reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who also noted myriad reasons for the slow play. “It’s the way the golf course is set up. It’s how firm it is. The way the golf course is designed. You’re crossing over a lot, and to get better angles and better lines, you’ve got to hit across all the fairways. There’s nothing you can do unfortunately about it. It’s just sad more than anything. It’s just ridiculous.”

The massive downside is that the second round was nearly eight hours away when the festivities ended in Round 1 at 10 p.m. local time. That’s a tiny turnaround time for everybody involved.

5. Fast and firm: Speaking of that fast, firm setup, balls were bounding all over the planet on Thursday, and it may only get wonkier as the week wears on. McIlroy described it as “fiddly,” comparing St. Andrews to Carnoustie in 2018. Scheffler seemed amazed at some of the run.

“I kid you not,” he said, “I think the fairways are faster than the greens in some spots.”

“We played Liverpool like that,” Tiger Woods said, “but it was just different. Liverpool doesn’t have the amount of slopes that St Andrews has. The fairways are flatter, so the ball, obviously, you have more control on the ground. Here you really don’t have as much control. They were quick. The greens were very firm but slow, and it’s an interesting combo.”

It remains to be seen whether this benefits longer or shorter hitters — both made their way to the top of the Round 1 leaderboard — but one thing is for certain: bouncing balls will affect the top of the field the rest of the way (for better or worse). That will be a fascinating aspect of The Open to literally keep an eye on as it plays out over the final 54 holes.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter and Patrick McDonald to recap Thursday’s action at the Open Championship. Download and follow The Early Edge on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

6. LIV boys near the top: After struggling at the U.S. Open, the LIV Golf crew came to play this week. Talor Gooch, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood lead the way at 4 under, four back of the lead, but Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter and Scott Vincent are just behind them at 3 under. Some of that crew got a little frustrated in the interview area afterward when they were asked about their move to LIV. Westwood was asked about whether he thought he would be booed. “I think the media are stoking it up and doing as much as they can to aid that,” he said. “I think the general public just want to go out there and see good golf no matter where it’s being played or who’s playing it.”

Phil Mickelson, who shot 72 on Thursday, had an equally icy moment.

7. Rory’s process: After his round, McIlroy discussed how he thought his way around the Old Course quite well. When he was pressed for an example, he gave an extraordinarily thoughtful response about a well-earned par on No. 17, the Road Hole.

“I hit it way down there,” said McIlroy, “and my ball’s on the fairway, but it’s in a lie where I don’t feel like I can get the leading edge of a lob wedge underneath the ball to get a good enough strike on it. So, I chipped a little gap wedge down there, and I pulled it. But I played the right shot so that, if I did miss it, it wasn’t in too bad of a spot but I could then get it up-and-down from.

“And that’s what I’m talking about, the trickiness. I only had 85 yards to the front of the green on 17, and I knew 4 was going to be a good score. So, I think it’s accepting that sometimes and not being overly aggressive, even when you put yourself in some of these positions. I think that’s important.”

8. Amateur near the top: Barclay Brown, who is going into his senior year at Stanford, shot 68 early and is among the T5s going into Round 2. He last won at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic in 2021, but this course has rewarded amateurs in recent years. Irishman Paul Dunne led after 54 holes in 2015, and American Jordan Nieburgge went on to finish in the top 10 that same year.

9. Tiger at sunset: Walking the final three holes with Tiger Woods on Thursday — as the sun bowed below the Old — was quite an experience. He didn’t have his stuff, which must be disappointing to him given how hard he worked to get back here, but the moment was still difficult to believe. A crisp North Sea breeze settled in over those who had stayed for the end, and as Tiger walked up No. 18 toward the blue grandstand, the yellow leaderboard and the brown hotel — each taller than the one before it — it was hard not to think that he may never walk this course again at dusk during an Open.

Nobody knows how the future will go — not even him — but I savored a different kind of moment than the ones he created in his prime. This was not a young Cat, pacing up and down the side of the sea, readying for the kill. It was an old man (at least in golf terms) doing what we all do: chasing the sun, hoping that what he brought that day was enough.

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