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Leaders rolling along at British Open

The Washington Post

July 19. 2018 7:48PM
Kevin Kisner hits out of a green side bunker on the 18th green during the first round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. (Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — For those who love a story about a tee shot that rolled for a freakish amount of time, and for those who can manage to refrain from dying of boredom while hearing a story about a tee shot that rolled for freakish amount of time, here’s the 147th British Open, where the balls roll to yonder and give players much to ponder.

“The ball’s running 50 to 80 yards on certain shots,” first-round leader Kevin Kisner said Thursday.

“I hit a 3-wood where I’m at like 330,” Kevin Na said.

“I hit a 4-iron on 9, and it ran to 290,” Pat Perez said.

“Even with almost no wind, we’re playing 5-irons to go 250, 260 yards,” defending champion Jordan Spieth said. “Downwind, close to 300. It carries 205, 210 downwind, and it just doesn’t stop.”

“I hit my 3-iron, 4-iron and 5-iron,” Tony Finau said. “I pretty much wore it out today. Exactly. That tells you how far the ball is rolling out.”

“I’ve never hit an 8-iron off a par 4, and I hit an 8-iron off a par 4 today,” Zach Johnson said.

As the first-round leaderboard went chockablock with under-par scores on Thursday — Kisner at 5-under 66, three-way ties at 67 and 68, a 10-way tie at 69 with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Johnson in it and a 14-way tie at 70 with Rickie Fowler in there somewhere — and as Tiger Woods opened with even-par 71, everyone was said to be playing in Scotland except that this is Definitely Not Scotland.

Eternal sunshine of the rainless kind has left the fairways brown and turned them steadily to mortar. An immigration agent at the Glasgow airport said he has been kidding with the usual arriving tourist golfers, telling them that while they’re technically playing golf in Scotland, they’re not really playing golf in Scotland. Sure, the lack of rain has kept the rough from transforming into the menacing, devouring foliage of custom, but the golf balls are not only rolling but also apparently giggling.

“Guys have hit it like 380,” said Na, the 38-year-old American who joined that 14-way convention at 1 under. “It’s amazing how much it rolls. There’s almost no grass out there. Just going forever.”

“Yeah, you just don’t know,” said Perez, the 42-year-old American lodged in that 10-way tie at 2 under. “Julian Suri (playing partner) hit a perfect flier in the middle of the fairway, and it kept rolling and rolling and kept watching, and it rolled right into the bunker. It was just unlucky.”

“I hit it in two bunkers today that I felt were out of play with the club I had in my hand,” said Finau, the 28-year-old American who joined the three-way gathering at 4 under, “and it rolled right into the bunker.”

All the rolling plus other factors has spawned a few byproducts. It has helped to expand the array of plausible decisions about how to approach a hole. “That’s the beauty this golf course is right now,” said Johnson, 42, the 2015 champion and two-time major champion who wedged in with the hordes at 2 under. “You can hit 7-irons and 6-irons off the tee box. You can hit drivers, but you’d better hit both of them straight.”

If deciding tires the human brain, as studies have shown, then this has been one tiring British Open so far. “Definitely harder,” said Spieth, 24, who arrived at No. 15 at 3 under, then played the last four holes in 4 over to reach 1-over 72. “You hit a shot, and it doesn’t go as planned, and you’re always second-guessing yourself, you could have hit somewhere else. ‘I could have hit driver,’ or, ‘I could have hit 5-iron.’“ Calling the greens sort of “boring,” Spieth said, “This course is the first two shots, you know.”

A gaze at the PGA Tour and European PGA Tour statistics found that players with lofty driving-distance rankings like No. 2, 3, 14 and 21 do appear on the leader board, but so do those with rankings such as Nos. 126, 131, 140, 167 and 176, with No. 176 being Kisner, 34, who led the PGA Championship on its Sunday morning last August before finishing seventh.

As the weather forecast called for a good chance of Scotland this morning, this British Open has managed even with its funkiness to uphold the tournament’s legendary demand for creativity and thinking, even if this is in Definitely Not Scotland and really even Britain.

“The beauty of what we’re seeing right here is that Mother Nature just took it over,” Johnson said.

“You’ve got to play the golf course,” Finau said. “You’ve got to think a lot and be very strategic.”


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