Lytham: Australia’s Adam Scott flirted with golfing history in the first round of the British Open at Royal Lytham on Thursday before settling for a six-under par 64 and the clubhouse 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 majors.
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.
“I just pulled my two-iron slightly off the tee,” Scott said of his bogey at the last.
“It’s quite an awkward tee shot with no wind, even. [I] 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.
“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 in mauling the revered Royal Lytham links course, which was hosting the world’s oldest golf tournament for the 11th time.
With the fairways and greens unusually soft and receptive after weeks of record rainfall in north-west 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, Tiger 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 that went agonisingly close from the eighth hole.
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.
Five other winners of major titles were, like Woods, lurking just behind Scott atop the leaderboard.
Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, who won The Open at Carnoustie in 1999, had a 65 that included two superb chip-ins, while 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson of the United States matched him after falling back from six under after 16 holes.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 US Open, joined Woods on 67 as did reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2002 Open champion Ernie Els.
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 steadied the ship with birdies at the seventh and ninth but four bogeys down the back nine crippled his round and left him with a three over 73 that will cast further doubts over his ability to one day win a major.
Fellow Englishman 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 and No 2 Rory McIlroy both had afternoon starts.