The Open Notebook - Destination Vegas and footballing mediocrity
The 147th Open got underway in style on Thursday, with 1985 Champion Golfer Sandy Lyle’s tee shot kicking things off at Carnoustie.
Kevin Kisner’s sparkling 66 stands atop the leaderboard, Tiger Woods returned to The Open for the first time in three years and reigning Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth’s final four-hole struggle ruined a promising round.
But there were plenty of other quirky stories flying under the radar on the Angus links and as ever, we bring them to you in the latest edition of our Open Notebook.
What happens to Vegas...
Normally people travel from around the world to get to Vegas but this time, Vegas travelled around the world to get to Carnoustie.
Venezuelan golfer Jhonattan Vegas didn’t realise his visa to enter the UK had expired until last Thursday – the day he was supposed to travel – and the process to renew it was then delayed.
It was eventually sorted on Wednesday morning and he then flew from Houston to Toronto to Glasgow, before getting a helicopter to Carnoustie and arriving two hours before his tee time today.
That face when you realized you visa to the UK is expired the same day you were supposed to travel. La cara cuando te das cuenta que tu visa al Reino Unido está vencida el mismo días que viajas. 😡😡🤬🤬🤬😡😡 pic.twitter.com/lztAcLUNN0— Jhonattan Vegas (@JhonattanVegas) July 12, 2018
Unfortunately for Vegas, his clubs didn’t follow – they are still in Toronto – but his caddie cobbled him together a new set, he hit about 20 balls on the range and then, perhaps unsurprisingly, shot a five-over round of 76.
And the 33-year-old explained where his round went wrong.
“I was actually one-over through eight holes, and I was feeling good because the course is really giving me a great feel,” he said. “Then I decided to start hitting the driver, and bad things started happening with that shot. It didn't really fit. So I got a few bogeys and shot 76.”
He also did all that on just two hours sleep over the last couple of days. In some ways, it’s a miracle he managed to shoot sub-80.
My lucky ball
He shot a two-over round of 73 but despite his struggles, Phil Mickelson still found time for a touching gesture during his round.
The 2013 Champion Golfer spotted a fan in a wheelchair watching him on the 4th green and threw the man the ball he had just holed out with.
“This is my lucky ball,” said Mickelson to the spectator. “Thanks for coming out and supporting me today, it’s much appreciated.”Lovely moment from Lefty, especially as he could have done with some luck.
Can we have our ball back?
Overnight leader Kevin Kisner could be forgiven for having a slight inferiority complex considering he’s sharing a house with Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Jason Dufner – who have eight majors between them – this week.
Kisner is looking for his first but he’s taking solace in the fact that unlike on the golf course, reigning Champion Golfer Spieth is rather errant on the football pitch.
“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys,” said Kisner. “I mean, we're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out.
“It's pretty cool to watch how athletic a lot of those guys are – except Duff [Jason Dufner]... No, I'm just kidding, Duff is athletic too.
“Jordan’s not bad until he sends it into the garden four houses over, and we've got to go knock on neighbours' doors for the soccer ball back.”
Rory finding it nasty
Rory McIlroy has the word ‘nasty’ imprinted on the sole of his golf shoes this week, which sort of summed up his lie in the bunker at the first, after his drive took an unfortunate sideways bounce.
He dug it out and walked off with a par, which set him on his way to a two-under round of 69 – making three birdies and a sole bogey on the 5th.
If the 2014 Champion Golfer is to lift the Claret Jug for a second time, he may well need to overcome further nasty lies this week.
Garcia goes for a dip
On the 72nd hole of The 1999 Open at Carnoustie, Jean van de Velde famously considered trying to play his ball from in the Barry Burn and today, Sergio Garcia did.
Van de Velde removed his shoes and socks and waded in before deciding the shot wasn’t on – part of his famous meltdown that cost him the Claret Jug – and although Garcia kept his footwear on, he did manage to hoick his ball out.
The Spaniard had unluckily rolled into the Burn on the 10th and although he got the ball out, he landed in a bunker before bogeying the hole, part of an all-round disappointing day.
Check this out:
The big stick is firing
Many players are opting to take irons off the tee but as two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka proved when he drove onto the par-four 1st green, leaving him a 15-foot putt for eagle, there is also merit to getting the driver out of the bag.
And Brendan Steele can take bragging rights for the longest average drive length today, at a monstrous 373 yards.
Unsurprisingly world No.1 Dustin Johnson wasn’t far behind but while the tactic worked for Steele (he ended the day with a round of 68), Johnson suffered a miserable Thursday and carded a five-over round of 76.
The 18-hole itch
It certainly didn’t affect his golf – a four-under round of 67 to be tied second is testament to that – but Tony Finau spent a lot of his first round rubbing his right shoulder, leading some to suspect he may have picked up an injury.
However, the American insisted the explanation was far more mundane.
“My shoulder, yeah, it was just a little itchy out there,” said Finau. “My right shoulder blade was itching me all day. It's fine – just a little itchy.”
A journalist interjected: “At one point, you looked like...” but unlike the itch, the questioner was quickly brushed away by Finau.
“No, my shoulder was itching the heck out of me,” he curtly added. “I don't know what was the problem.”
Perhaps those infamous Scottish midges are to blame...?
Despite Sandy Lyle’s prediction of a really low score being achievable today, Tommy Fleetwood’s course-record 63 was never challenged.
But a different new record was confirmed, with The 147th Open set to be the best-attended to date at Carnoustie.
The sold-tickets this week have already surpassed the previous record of 157,000, set when Scotland’s Paul Lawrie defeated Jean van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a dramatic play-off to lift the Claret Jug in 1999.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “We know that there has been real excitement among fans about The Open returning to Carnoustie’s great links and the record number of spectators at the Championship here underlines its reputation as one of the world’s great sporting events.”
Player giving fitness tips
Gary Player is loving being back at Carnoustie and was particularly happy when he learned fellow South African Martin Vorster won the The Junior Open over the Eden course at St Andrews this week.
The 16-year old and all his rivals are guests of honour here and got the chance to meet the nine-time major winner and three-time Champion Golfer Player.
The 82-year old – who won the Claret Jug here in 1968 – isn’t dubbed Mr Fitness for no reason and for over an hour he held court with the captivated teenagers.
He gave an impromptu golf lesson, warned about the perils of unhealthy foods and got everyone thinking about yoga.
What a pleasure to spend time with #TheJuniorOpen competitors here @TheOpen and especially the 1st South African champion Martin Vorster. What a nice young man he seems to be & I wish him and all of them, the very best with their future endeavors pic.twitter.com/haoY15lEr2— Gary Player (@garyplayer) July 19, 2018
Quote of the day
As a member at Carnoustie, Matthew Southgate knows the course, and the town, inside out.
He shot a solid two-under round of 69 very early this morning and then recommended the best restaurants in town to the always ravenous press pack.
And he summed up the special charm that this town on the Angus Coast has.
“I think the whole town know me and my dad. I think it's lovely – It's like a home away from home,” he said.
“Carnoustie is a completely individual place – I've played golf all around the world, and I've never seen anywhere like Carnoustie.
“It doesn't matter if you're the milkman or a lawyer, as soon as your golf clubs come out, you're all just equal and you're all square on the first tee, let's play golf.
Picture of the day
Tiger Woods was playing in his first Open since 2015 and the world was watching as he took his first tee shot.
Of course he hit it down the middle of the fairway and went on to make birdie. It’s like he’s never been away...
If players need any reminder to stay out of these hellacious bunkers then they should take a look at this - Brooks Koepka literally brought to knees by the sand.
It took him three shots to get out of this greenside bunker on the 8th hole. Ouch...
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