LYTHAM, England – Australia's Adam Scott flirted with golfing history at the British Open at Royal Lytham on Thursday before settling for a six-under par 64 and the first-round lead.
The 31-year-old from Adelaide, seen as one of the best players currently not to have won a major title, came to the last needing a birdie to become the first player in the long history of the majors to record a 62.
Instead, a wayward drive into thick Lancashire rough resulted in a closing bogey and meant that Scott was even deprived the satisfaction of joining the 25 other golfers who have recorded 63s in major golf.
It was enough, however, to place him atop the leaderboard with the lowest first round ever fired in 11 Opens at Lytham and it matched the course record in Open play, the third-round 64 by Tom Lehman on his way to victory in 1996.
Scott finished the day alone in the lead, but he had a slew of major winners nipping at his heels.
One back were Scotland's 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie and American 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson with rising Belgian star Nicolas Colsaerts joining them late in the day.
Brandt Snedeker of the United States was alone on 66, while locked in a four-way tie on 67 for most of the day were 14-times major winner Tiger Woods, 2002 Open champion Ernie Els, 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson.
They were joined late on by 2010 US Open champion Rory McIlroy, Japan's Toshinori Muto, Steve Stricker of the United States and Peter Hanson of Sweden.
World No. 2 McIlroy birdied the 16th, where he drove the green, and 18th, after taking a double-bogey six at the 15th where his drive smacked a spectator on the head and bounced out of bounds.
Scott said that on the 18th he pulled a 2-iron slightly off the tee.
“It's quite an awkward tee shot with no wind, even. And just got myself in a bit of trouble and tried to be smart and chip out and chip on, but didn't quite hit a good third shot and left myself too much work,” Scott said of his bogey at the last.
“But, you know, making a bogey here or there is fine. Making doubles and triples is what really hurts. So just getting out of trouble was good.”
Scott was not alone early on in mauling the revered Royal Lytham links course, which first staged the world's oldest golf tournament in 1926 when the legendary Bobby Jones won.
With the fairways and greens unusually soft and receptive after weeks of recond rainfall in northwest England, and no breeze to speak of wafting in off the Irish Sea, the layout was largely defenceless.
Until Scott went on his charge down the back nine, Woods had been leading the way at four under after just seven holes.
It could have been even better for the 36-year-old American if not for a depressing run of birdie putts from the eighth hole that went agonisingly close.
He dropped a shot at the 15th but still came in with a fine 67, which leaves him handily placed in his quest for a 15th major title, having waited over four years since he last won the US Open at Torrey Pines.
Woods agreed that Lytham had been at the players' mercy due to the gentle conditions.
“It was pretty soft. The wind wasn't blowing and we're backing golf balls up. That's something we just don't see,” he said.
“So we knew that we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine, and I figured a couple under would have been good.
“But I look up on the board and (Adam) Scotty is going pretty low and so is everyone else. I felt I had to make a few more and I was able to.” McIlroy said that he hadn't realised there was out of bounds down the right-hand side of the 15th.
“If he could have headed it the other way, it would have been in the fairway,” he joked of his ball's collision with the young spectator's head.
It was a deeply disappointing day for highly-fancied Lee Westwood, who was out to become the first Englishman to win The Open on home soil since Tony Jacklin did so here 43 years ago.
Seeking his first major title after a long litany of near misses, Westwood birdied the first two holes, but then his normally solid iron play let him down as a skewed approach to the third ended in a double bogey.
The World No. 3 had four bogeys down the back nine which left him bemoaning his lack of touch.
Compatriot Justin Rose was another one who failed to take advantage of the benign conditions as he had a 74 while playing partner Sergio Garcia had a 72.
World No.1 Luke Donald, like countryman Westwood desperate to finally bag a major, had a quiet day, with one birdie and a single bogey at the last giving him a round of 70 and his best Open start in five years. – Sapa-AFP