Golf: Carnoustie wins the first round

The Open: Early-bird Pampling matches par then favourites struggle with harsh course and vagaries of the wind
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The Independent Online
GETTING ON TO the leaderboard was not the problem on the first day of the 128th Open Championship. Staying on it, however, was as difficult as stopping an approach downwind on Carnoustie's greens. Anyone, it seemed, playing the opening two holes reasonable well - that is avoiding a double- bogey or worse - was able to enjoy the glorious feeling of seeing their name on the Open leaderboard. Briefly.

No sooner had the names gone up than they came down again, except for that of Rod Pampling. The 29-year-old Australian, who teed off early in the morning, was the only player to match the par of 71. "I knew it was a good score but I didn't realise I would lead at the end of the day," Pampling said. "It was nice to sit back at home and watch everyone else struggle."

On what Colin Montgomerie described as a "breezy summer's day" the average score was 78, seven over par. Bernhard Langer and Scott Dunlap, of America, both had 72s early on but only got away with three holes of relative calm before the wind got up to 20 to 25mph.

It was far from a gale but enough to make par irrelevant on such a narrow lay-out with such penalising rough. Justin Leonard, the champion two years ago, was pleased with his 73, as were Tiger Woods, Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Davis Love with their 74s.

Woods, the world No 1, started off by holing three improbable putts for pars on the first three holes. He then dropped two shots in a row but warmed to the challenge of the conditions despite missing a number of birdie opportunities. The 1997 Masters winner two-putted the par-five 14th for a birdie only to drop two more shots at the 16th and 17th.

"The guys are going to need a few days off after this week," said Leonard. "There are so many things to factor into every shot. It is mentally draining." The 27-year-old American appreciates the historic setting, however, and enjoys a particular link with the Barry links as he represents the equipment company founded by Ben Hogan, the winner here in 1953.

"This is a special place with Mr Hogan having done so well here," Leonard said. "I was going home from dinner the other night when a gentleman stopped me and talked about him for 20 minutes."

With a gap of 24 years since the last Open, few players had experienced the true Carnoustie challenge. "It's lived up to its reputation as the hardest championship course," said Sir Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient. "We don't like seeing players struggle but this is a test of character as well as golf."

The most spectacular collapse came from Sergio Garcia, the 19-year-old Spaniard. His score was 27 shots worse than his opening round at Loch Lomond a week ago and the Irish Open champion played more like the rookie in his eighth professional tournament that he is than the wonder boy of the last fortnight.

Only the American Tom Gillis, with a 90, scored worse but the list of those failing to break 80 contained some impressive names. They included the defending champion, Mark O'Meara, with an 83, and the last winner at Carnoustie in 1975, Tom Watson, with an 82. "This was the easy wind," Watson said. "If it was blowing in the opposite direction, well, it would be even tougher."

Should O'Meara need any encouragement for today's second round, Bob Ferguson also scored an 83 before adding an 88 to retain his title in 1882. Then the championship was only decided over 36 holes, which is the number of holes Montgomerie usually plays in the Open.

An opening 74 was not the Scot's best start numerically but "this is the best I feel going into a second round," said the Loch Lomond champion. "Last week's win relaxed me into trying to enjoy this Open more than previously. To be three over after eight and finish three over, I'm delighted."

Lee Westwood had the opposite sort of round, playing the first 15 holes in one over and the last three in four over. "I need a stiff drink," said the Englishman. "I didn't feel I hit a bad shot. It was a slog from start to finish."

Pampling and Langer were in the 7.25 starting time, before the breeze had got up. Pampling parred each of the first 11 holes, a run only surpassed by Spain's Miguel Angel Martin, who managed 15 pars in a row before dropping a shot at the 16th and then driving into the burn at the next.

A poor drive by Pampling on the 12th cost a dropped shot but he holed from 10 feet for a birdie at the next. The day's only realistic birdie chance was offered at the Spectacles, the par-five 14th, but Pampling went one better by hitting a six-iron to 25 feet and holing the putt for an eagle. The Australian also gained on the field by only dropping two shots over the last four holes, at the 15th and the 17th.

One of the longest hitters on the Australasian tour, Pampling naturally hits the ball low. "That's one thing I don't have to worry about in the wind," he said. Eschewing a driver, he stuck to his driving iron, a club with a loft of 18 degrees which propelled the ball 180 yards into the wind and 290 downwind. "I don't mind the wind. It's a challenge. It makes you think a lot harder out on the course about what shots you have to play."

Pampling, who lives in Caboolture in Queensland, turned pro in 1992 and won his first tournament, the Canon Challenge in Sydney, earlier this year. He has played on the Nike Tour in the States but his experience is on the great Australian courses in howling gales.

Like Pampling, Andrew Coltart also reached two under par for his round. However the Scot, who has twice been the Australian PGA champion, had four holes to play and dropped five strokes to par before he got to the safety of the clubhouse. "I surprised myself by getting to two under," Coltart said.

"It helps having grown up playing in conditions like this. You know everyone is going to have a nightmare. You are just trying not to take it too seriously."

More reports, pages 30, 31