Clarke sparkles as Woods warms up

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For all the hot air of the practice days, it was a cool breeze that determined the course of proceedings in the first round of the Open Championship here yesterday. The leaderboard was meant to be filled with those at the top of the game's ladder; instead the tournament reverted to type and gave us Darren Clarke and Jim Furyk as the early leaders at four under par.

The favourites were scattered, but with two birdies in his last three holes Tiger Woods managed to leave the 18th with a smile and a 72, one over par. A gallery of 31,000 was here to see the 21-year-old phenomenon, which was only 3,000 up on the first day eight years ago. "A 72 is still in the ball-game," Woods said. "The leaders are still in touch and if the weather stays like this, it is going to be hard to go low."

The defending champion, Tom Lehman, came home in 40 for a 74, the US Open winner Ernie Els had a 75 and the local hero Colin Montgomerie a 76. "Jeez, this game can drive you insane sometimes," Els said.

Only 10 players broke par, the last of whom was the 44-year-old Scottish amateur Barclay Howard on 70. At two under, Greg Norman had been happy to get to the clubhouse early on and he was joined by the Americans Fred Couples and Justin Leonard. Bernhard Langer had a double-bogey at the last for a 72, while Nick Faldo, after a run of seven consecutive pars, birdied the last to get in at level par. "The course was a brute,'' Faldo said. "It was as tough as I have played a links for moons.''

Woods is still coming to terms with the wind on links courses. He hit a 435-yard drive at the fourth and found greenside bunkers at the 364- yard first - where Tommy Tolles managed to scatter those putting ahead and holed a six-foot putt for an eagle - and the 402-yard seventh, but he also had to hit a four-iron from 165 yards at the last.

The distractions of a few camera clicks was nothing compared with Troon's back nine, likened by Tom Watson to coming up against Woods' hero, the basketball star Michael Jordan.

At the 11th, where Jack Nicklaus had an 11 in his first Open in 1962, Woods took a seven. He drove into the gorse on the right and had to take a penalty drop before managing to move his two-iron third only 120 yards.

"I had my problems but I managed to rectify them," the Masters champion said. "One over par was not bad today and it was even better with a seven on the card."

For most of the day, those who topped the leaderboard only had figures up for the first few holes. Clarke, a 28-year-old Ulsterman who plays his golf at Royal Portrush and will be making his Ryder Cup debut in September, and the American Furyk, 27, managed to hang on despite both having bogeys at the last in their 67s.

The highlight of Clarke's round was holing a 70-foot putt from the edge of the 11th green. "To make a three felt like an eagle," he said of the hole which was a par-five in previous Opens.

Clarke was glued to the Open on television as a youngster, but Furyk is still learning the links game. He is a quick learner, since he shot an 85 on his first venture last year at Carnoustie. He has a swing as unorthodox as Eamonn Darcy's and perhaps that helps him to maintain it in the wind.

"I have been successful in Hawaii and in Texas when it has been windy, but I'm not one of those people who would want it to really blow tomorrow," he said.

While the US Masters sometimes indulges in the sneaky tactics of shaving the greens and forgetting to water them on a Wednesday evening once everyone has completed their practice rounds, the natural elements, in the form of a switch in the direction of the wind, produced a completely different golf course yesterday morning.

This was the true Troon, the outward half playing downwind and the back nine playing longer than War and Peace. "I hit more long irons on those nine holes than I have all year on the US PGA Tour," said Watson, who went out in three under and came back in three over. "This course is like playing the Chicago Bulls: you know at the end of the game they're going to be coming back at you. The back nine is like Michael Jordan when he gets mad and puts on quite a show."

Nicklaus, now 57, achieved the rare feat of playing the inward half in the level-par score of 35. "There are about six par-fives on the back nine," he said. "At least, there were six holes I could not reach in two shots."

One of the two par threes on the back nine, the 179-yard 14th, did yield a hole in one in the late evening. It went to the Swede Pierre Fulke, whose three-iron gave him his second ace in the last eight days.

For all the intentions of picking up birdies on the opening segment, no one beat Fred Couples' score of 31, five under, to the turn. The three birdies that did not come at the par-fives were achieved by using his sand wedge for his approach shots. "I'm thrilled with the round," said the American who was sixth here in 1989. "But I could easily shoot anything tomorrow."

It has been a difficult year for Couples, despite the fact that he started it in fine form. At the US Masters he recorded his seventh top-10 finish in eight tournaments, but he has played only four times in three months since. He split up with his long-term fiancee and has been visiting his 74-year-old father, Tom, as he fights leukaemia.

His preparation for the US Open included a month off in which he went to Switzerland and popped in on the French Open - the tennis, that is. "I don't like playing when I can't see where the ball is going. There was nothing really to play for. I have a lot of confidence, though, and as long as you don't lose that, all you need is a few days playing to feel good about my game."

More reports, page 30

FIRST-ROUND SCORES FROM THE OPEN

(GB or Irl unless stated;

* denotes

amateur)

67

J Furyk (US)

D Clarke (N Ire)

69

G Norman (Aus) F Couples (US)

J Leonard (US)

70

A Cabrera (Arg)

D Love III (US)

A Magee (US)

J Parnevik (Swe)

*B Howard

71

I Woosnam

T Watson (US)

D Tapping

C Strange (US)

N Faldo

J Haas (US)

72

T Purtzer (US)

P Lonard (Aus)

S Stricker (US)

P-U Johansson (Swe)

R Russell

T Kite (US)

B Andrade (US)

M Bradley (US)

J Lomas

T Woods (US)

B Langer (Ger)

S Appleby (Aus)

73

S McCarron (US)

*C Watson

L Westwood

J Nicklaus (US)

P Stewart (US)

M O'Meara (US)

M Wiebe (US)

R Davis (Aus)

D Duval (US)

P Fulke (Swe)

P O'Malley (Aus)

74

M Calcavecchia (US)

E Romero (Arg)

S Maruyama (Japan)

S Ames (Tri)

W Riley (Aus)

G Clark

F Nobilo (NZ)

T Lehman (US)

P Teravainen (US)

J Payne

75

*S Webster

D Howell

R Boxall

W Westner (SA)

B Watts (US)

R Goosen (SA)

J M Olazabal (Sp)

P Broadhurst

D A Russell

E Els (SA)

C Rocca (It)

P Harrington

P Mitchell

N Price (Zim)

76

P Blackmar (US)

P McGinley

J Maggert (US)

C Montgomerie

A Coltart

D Robertson

R Allenby (Aus)

T Bjorn (Den)

J Cook (US)

J Ozaki (Japan)

L Roberts (US)

P Senior (Aus)

J Coceres (Arg)

R Karlsson (Swe)

T Gogele (Ger)

J Kernohan (US)

A Crerar

G Orr

S Jones (US)

M James

S Elkington (Aus)

P Mickelson (US)

R Damron (US)

G Turner (NZ)

P Hedblom (Swe)

J Kelly (US)

G Brand Jnr

77

J Van de Velde (Fr)

S Ballesteros (Sp)

B Faxon (US)

V Singh (Fiji)

T Tolles (US)

K J Duck (S Kor)

M Bradley

S Dunlap (US)

L Batchelor

78

J Spence

S Torrance

M McNulty (Zim)

S Lyle

B Tway (US)

P Hinton

W Bladon

D Hart (US)

C Pavin (US)

L Janzen (US)

M Long (NZ)

C Stadler (US)

G Player (SA)

G Day (US)

C Mason

G Dodd (Aus)

J Steenkamer (Neth)

79

H Miyase (Japan)

R Claydon

M Roe

P Curry

S Bottomley

J Remesy (Fr)

P Haugsrud (Nor)

*S Young

I Garrido (Sp)

C Parry (Aus)

M A Martin (Sp)

P Azinger (US)

P Baker

C Clark

80

P Stankowski (US)

S Mori (Japan)

R McFarlane

K Duke (US)

A Sandywell

V Phillips

C Perry (US)

R Green (Aus)

M Brooks (US)

*D Olsson (Swe)

*J Miller

81

*Y Taylor

G Ghei (Ind)

D Frost (SA)

A Cejka (Ger)

R Jacquelin (Fr)

82

M A Jimenez (Sp)

M Miller

83

M Mamat (Sin)

84

B McGovern

Y Kaneko (Japan)

G Murphy

85

N Sato (Japan)

K Eriksson (Swe)

87

D Edlund (Swe)

92

I Baker-Finch (Aus)

withdrew

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