The Open 2013: Zach Johnson takes slender first-round lead

 

THE OPEN: FIRST-ROUND LEADERBOARD

  • -5: Z Johnson (US)
  • -4: Cabrera-Bello (Spa), O'Meara (US)
  • -3: Jimenez (Spa), D Johnson (US), Snedeker (US), Lehman (US), Kapur (Ind)
  • -2: Hamilton (US), Mickelson (US), Cabrera (Arg), Speith (US), Woods (US), F Molinari (Ita)
  • Selected: Level: Scott (Aus)
  • +1: Clarke (NI), Westwood (Eng), Poulter (Eng)
  • +3: Els (SA)
  • +8: McIlroy (NI)

American Zach Johnson took a one-shot lead after a difficult opening day that saw some of the world's best struggle in the 142nd Open Championship.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, shot a five-under 66 on a firm and fiery Muirfield course to head Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and 56-year-old Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion.

Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, India's Shiv Kapur and Americans Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and 1996 champion Tom Lehman ended another stroke adrift on three under.

Woods in hunt after first-round 69

Tiger Woods recovered from a penalty drop following a poor drive at the first to shoot a two-under 69 in conditions he described as "progressively more difficult" as the course dried out.

The world number one, chasing a first major title since 2008, ended alongside Phil Mickelson, last week's Scottish Open winner, 2004 champion Todd Hamilton, Argentina's two-time major winner Angel Cabrera, Italy's Francesco Molinari and 19-year-old US Tour rookie Jordan Spieth.

But on a stunning day for spectating, if not low scoring, the bouncy, fast-running Scottish links claimed a number of notable scalps.

Rory McIlroy's woes continued with an eight-over 79, which he blamed on a series of mental errors rather than technique.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm walking around out there a bit unconscious," said the world number two, who has struggled all season.

England's Luke Donald, the man McIlroy duelled with for the number one spot for much of last season, ended on 80.

Analysis

"Phil Mickelson made his comments on the state of the course from a position of strength because, apart from being one of the best players in the world, he was out there and shot a good score so there was no temper involved after posting a bad round.

"I think they got the course set-up right, but only just. I think the greenkeepers will publically say they will put the same amount of water on the course tonight but will more than likely give the greens an extra swoosh with a hosepipe.

"I don't think Muirfield is a patch on the US Open last month where I thought some of the greens at Merion were farcical to play on."

Of the field of 156, only 26 ended at level par or better.

Ian Poulter, who finished one over, and Mickelson branded the bone-dry greens and some of the pin positions a "joke" and "unplayable". The R&A defended the set-up, but admitted it would review its course policies ahead of Friday's second round, while O'Meara said in more than 25 Open Championships he had seen conditions far worse.

Woods sympathised to some extent with the complaints and said: "I'm very pleased to shoot anything even par or better."

Johnson led for much of the day after reaching six under at the 12th, but he was briefly passed by Kapur, who raced to six under after seven despite the tricky afternoon conditions before dropping back.

O'Meara also shared the lead at one stage but slumped from five under after nine to two under at 15 before an eagle on the long 17th.

Masters champion Adam Scott, who blew a four-shot lead with four to play at Royal Lytham last year, ended level par, while defending champion Ernie Els carded 74.

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, who excelled in the wind and rain to win at Royal St George's in 2011, carded a one-over 72 alongside stablemate Lee Westwood, chasing his first major title in 62 attempts.

Stupid errors' for McIlroy

England's US Open winner Justin Rose took 75 along with Spain's Sergio Garcia and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell.

"I could not quite get my focus," said the 32-year-old Rose, who won his maiden major title at Merion last month. "It's very tricky out there and plays tricks with your mind."

England's Oliver Fisher and Scotland's Martin Laird led the British challenge at one-under with English amateur Jimmy Mullen and Wales's Gareth Wright in the group at level par. Paul Lawrie was the last from these shores to win the Open, at Carnoustie in 1999, but the Scot was another Muirfield victim and collapsed to a 10-over 81.

Sir Nick Faldo, who won two of his three Opens at Muirfield, also shot 79 on his Open return after two years of semi-retirement.

The Englishman, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, played alongside 63-year-old five-time champion Tom Watson and fellow US veteran Fred Couples, who both took 75.