It’s one of the most challenging opening tee shots on The Open rota – the 1st at Royal St George’s is an intimidating sight.
With the fairway lying to the left of the tee box, it is flanked by thick rough with a couple of bunkers thrown in for good measure and, as you line up your first competitive shot of the week, the area of short stuff suddenly looks remarkably narrow.
Early on day one, the par-4 has unsurprisingly been baring its teeth with a number of golfers shooting over par but there are also birdies to be made. Essentially, it’s been feast or famine.
After the first 14 groups had completed the hole on Thursday morning, so 42 players in total, there had been 12 birdies.
Normally those sort of figures would suggest a hole playing rather easy, yet there had also been nine bogeys, meaning only 50% of players were making a par. Underestimate the 1st at your peril.
STAY OUT OF THE ROUGH?
Conventional wisdom at Royal St George’s suggests the key to success is staying out of the punishing rough – the players were certainly intimating as such during their pre-Championship news conferences.
And there was early evidence of this proving true, as 2011 Champion Golfer Darren Clarke hit his opening tee shot wide of the fairway and made bogey, while only the brute strength and freakish power of Brooks Koepka enabled him to scramble a par after finding the thick stuff.
However, some players were able to subvert that and gain a shot despite erring slightly from the tee. In the very first group of the morning, Andy Sullivan made birdie from the rough, while later on Viktor Hovland was unlucky to roll into the first cut but stuck his approach stone dead anyway.
There’s no doubt that finding the middle of the fairway is still the way to go on the 1st though – just ask early pace-setter Paul Casey, who nailed his tee shot and hit a gorgeous second that left him a tap-in birdie.
Not that it’s always easy to hit the fairway – in fact, only 17 of the first 42 players hit their opening tee shot on the short stuff and as the sun further dries it out during the day, balls may start kicking off it.
That wasn’t a problem for the Chris Kirk-Marcus Kinhult-Jack Senior group, who played the hole perfectly, as all three opened up with a birdie.
With a scoring average of 3.929 through 14 groups, the 1st is basically playing to its par but that only tells half the story.
With birdies and bogeys aplenty, it’s proving to be a feast or famine hole that can get your round off to a perfect start or give you an early headache.