Round 1 recap: Bold play prevails for many top players
Round one at Carnoustie was a day in which golf fans everywhere would have traded a day at the office for a stroll around the links.
It would be tough to believe Carnoustie could be any more hospitable over the next three rounds. The groupings out early in the morning made full advantage of a benign breeze and flawless greens as the grandstands filled up.
Eric Van Rooyen, from South Africa, wasted little time setting the pace. He teed off in the day’s second game, shooting 3 under on the front nine. An 18th hole bogey knocked him out of a tie for first place with Kevin Kisner, who also teed off early and rolled just 22 putts en route to a pace-setting 5-under 66.
The firm fairways of Carnoustie presented the chance for many strategic options, and so far it appears both methods are being rewarded. Kisner hit just four drivers and averaged 314 yards, instead choosing to play safe and avoid trouble.
“I just want the ball on the fairway because it’s not an overly long golf course,” said Kisner.
A full-on cavalry featuring a collection of the game’s highest-ranked and most powerful players is nipping at Kisner’s heels, and some aren’t taking such caution with their strategy.
While Rickie Fowler employed a more conservative approach en route to a 1-under-par 70, his playing partner, Jon Rahm was far more aggressive. His bravado was highlighted by brashly driving the 350-yard third green. It included a bounce over the three-yard-wide burn bordering the green’s front edge.
It was a decision Rahm made due to the back-right pin position.
“If you lay up, you have pretty much no room to stop it to that pin,” said Rahm. “So it seemed worth it to hit driver to just give myself the best opportunity possible.”
The world No. 5 is firmly in the mix after a 2-under 69. Tied with him is world No. 2 Justin Thomas, who averaged 345 yards per drive and hit 14 greens in regulation.
“When I first got here, I thought I'd hit a lot more irons,” said Thomas. “But today with it being like this out, we figured let's just kind of send it around here.”
Rory McIlory also deployed an aggressive attack, including a driver on the third hole that carried the burn and went over the back of the green. He managed an up-and-in for birdie.
The day was an adventure off the tee for McIlroy, starting from the first tee when his driver rolled along the right side up the fairway until settling in a greenside bunker. He hit only four fairways but had only one bogey.
“As long as you don't hit it in the fairway bunkers, you're always going to have a shot at the green," he said. "That's why I tried to stay as aggressive as I possibly could even though I wasn't hitting the driver maybe as well as I could.”
If there was a player in the field who revealed how to find red at Carnoustie, it was Tony Finau, who carded eight birdies, including his first two holes, en route to a 4-under finish. For a big hitter like Finau, he doesn't need to hit driver to move the golf ball into scoring position. He hit everything from driver to 8-iron off the tee, and Finau averaged 348 yards.
“I've never played a golf course this firm,” said Finau. “I ran into a couple bunkers that I didn't think I could reach.”
Finau, 28, is becoming a force at major championships. He finished T-10 at the Masters and played in the final group at the U.S. Open, leading to a fifth place result.
"I feel like my game is built for major championship golf,” said Finau. “I feel like I'm learning a lot and continue to get better.
“And I know what to expect at this point in my career as far as major setups.”
A lapse in strategy can be devastating and happen to anyone. Jordan Spieth made a mental blunder on the 15th hole, and exacerbated the error with bogeys on 16 (the long par 3 was the day’s toughest hole) and found the Barry Burn on 18 for another bogey. Tiger Woods had a steady round going, but he missed a golden opportunity from the middle of the par-5 14th fairway. He short-sided his second shot into a fried-egg lie and scrambled for par and bogeyed the next hole.
One player who may be rethinking his game plan is Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1 shot 76, carding only one birdie and went out-of-bounds off the tee on 18 and finished with a triple bogey.
A round in the 60s is good enough for the top 10 for now. But 10 players who shot 69 are jammed at T-8 alone.
Will Kisner’s more conservative strategy pay off with so many power players at his heels? A win here would cement a place on this fall’s U.S. Ryder Cup team (something all of his roommates this week – Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson – can claim on their resumes.) He even spent some time in the company of the Claret Jug when the trophy was under Spieth’s custody the past year.
Rain is in the forecast for Friday morning, where a crowded leaderboard will take on a new day at Carnoustie in search of more daylight.
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