TURNBERRY: Miguel Angel Jimenez rolled in a 66-foot birdie putt at the final hole for a 6-under 64 to claim the opening-round lead at the British Open.
The ponytailed Spaniard known as ‘The Mechanic’ birdied the final two holes on Thursday in a bogey-free round that knocked veteran Tom Watson and Ben Curtis out of the top spot on the leaderboard.
The 59-year-old Watson, a five-time winner of the Claret Jug, held the lead most of the day, taking advantage of calm conditions at Turnberry to shoot a 65.
Curtis, the surprise Open winner at Royal St. George’s in 2003, matched Watson’s score in the afternoon.
Two months short of his 60th birthday, Watson, who dominated world golf in the 1970s and 1980s, produced a near flawless display on the same par-70 Aisla course on which he defeated Jack Nicklaus in the fabled ‘Duel in the Sun’ 22 years ago.
On that occasion he opened with a 68, three more than he shot on Thursday.
Watson had five birdies and no bogeys on his card by the time he sunk a five-footer for par at the last to earn one of the earliest standing ovations ever at the Open.
“I try not to live in the past, but a lot of the kids playing in the tournament were not even born in 1977.
“Still I have a chance to do well this week, ” he said.
Watson returned to the clubhouse with the early lead, one shot ahead of the equally unexpected John Senden, an Australian who only made it into the Open field on Tuesday when India’s Jeev Milkha Singh withdrew due to injury.
Former Open winners Mark O’Meara and Mark Calcavecchia both carded three-under 67s to put themselves firmly back in the picture at a Major.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh was alongside the two veteran Americans on three under
World No. 1 and tournament favourite Tiger Woods meanwhile endured a miserable opening round of 71 as he returned to British Open action after missing Royal Birkdale last year due to knee surgery.
He made a steady start with a birdie at the second cancelled by a bogey at the third where he drove the ball into deep rough and then overshot the green with his approach.
A second birdie at the par-five seventh saw the American, who was playing in the morning’s marquee grouping with 17-year-old Japanese prodigy Ryo Ishikawa and top European hope Lee Westwood, reach the turn in one-under 34.
His waywardness off the tee though cost him shots at the 10th, 15th and 16th as he came back in 37 for a one-over 71.
Woods was looking to follow in the footsteps of Watson (1977), Greg Norman (1986) and Nick Price (1994), the three previous winners over the Ailsa course, arguably the most scenic of the nine layouts currently on the Open rotation.
The in-form Westwood produced the best start of the day with birdies at the first three holes before missing a four-footer for another one at the fourth.
The Englishman dropped back to two under though when he bogeyed the par-five seventh, but picked up birdies at the 12th and 15th to get back to four under before a double bogey on 16 brought him in with a 68, the same as Ishikawa playing in just his second Major.
There was to be no repeat of last year’s heroics from Australian veteran Greg Norman who came in with a 77 that leaves him with a mountain to climb just to make the cut.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington had an afternoon tee-time as he set out in his bid to become the first golfer since Australian Peter Thomson in 1956 to win three Opens in a row.
Also out late were rising 20-year-old Ulster star Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Angel Cabrera
Leading first round scores: 64-Miguel Angel Jimenez; 65-Tom Watson & Ben Curtis; 66-John Senden (Aus); Steve Stricker (U.S.); Camilo Villegas (Colombia); 67-Mark Calcavecchia (U.S.); Mark O’Meara; Vijay Singh (Fiji); 68-Anthony Wall (GBr); Graeme McDowell (GBr); Sean O’Hair (U.S.); 70-Paul Broadhurst (GBr); Jeff Overton (U.S.); Nick Dougherty (GBr); Sergio Garcia (Esp); Peter Hanson (Swe); Louis Oosthuizen (SA) 71; Nick Watney (U.S.); Charl Schwartzel (SA); David Duval (U.S.); Adam Scott (Aus); Kenny Perry (U.S.); Henrik Stenson (Swe); Matteo Manassero (Ita).
72-Graeme Storm (GBr); Rafa Echenique (Arg); Oliver Wilson (GBr); 73-Gary Orr (GBr); Richard Finch (GBr); Bubba Watson (U.S.); 74-Rory Sabbatini (SA); 76-Yuta Ikeda (Jp); 77-Greg Norman (Aus); Wen-Chong Liang (Chn); 78-Michael Campbell (NZ); Dustin Johnson (U.S.); 79-Pablo Larrazabal (Esp). — Agencies