CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By any measure, Carnoustie is a brute. It has a reputation of breaking the hearts of competitors who walk its fairways and punish those who can’t control their golf balls. Bunkers and burns are the defense of the most difficult course in the R&A’s rotation for the British Open.
But somehow, we thought that "Carnasty," as the east-coast links course is nicknamed, was going to lay down and let the pros with their hot equipment and athletic physiques overpower it. That was not the case during Thursday’s first round of the 147th Open. Carnoustie took some hits from the likes of Kevin Kisner, who made an eagle and four birdies to shoot 5-under 66 and take the lead. American Tony Finau shared second with South Africans Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard at 67 (scores).
Others, such as Sergio Garcia (75), Bubba Watson (75), Bryson DeChambeau (75) and Dustin Johnson (76), seemed to find a different golf course than Kisner played.
© GOLFFILE/EOIN CLARKE
Kevin Kisner sets the 1st-round pace in the British Open.
“I think I only hit four drivers all day, maybe five,” Kisner said. “I just want the ball on the fairway, because it's not an overly long golf course. You're not going to have that many long clubs into the hole. If I can keep it in the fairway, I feel like I can control my golf ball around the green. The greens are calm, and around the greens are flat. I feel like any time I'm around the green, I'm going to make 4 or par, at the worst. So that's been my game plan.”
Kisner took the cautious or defensive approach, not allowing Carnoustie to take advantage of his inexperience. Kisner, 34, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, has played in only three British Opens, with his best result a T-54 last year at Royal Birkdale.
“I think getting accustomed to links golf is something you have to do, for where we come from,” said Kisner, who grew up in Aiken, S.C. “It's taken me a few years to understand that. You've got to just be really good with your long putting and your long shots around the green, in my opinion. Getting the ball in the fairway and making 4s or 5s – whatever par is – when you're a little bit off. The ball's running 50 to 80 yards on certain shots.”
While Kisner has shown that he is progressing in the art of links golf, Johnson, the world’s top-ranked player, showed that after nine appearances in the British Open, he still is trying to figure out the vagaries of the links.
Johnson made triple-bogey 7 on the final hole for a 5-over 76 on a hard-and-fast Carnoustie that proved to be more difficult than he could have imagined. His strategy of hitting driver as often as possible didn’t work in the first round. His visit to Scotland likely will be a short one after today’s cut to the low 70 scorers and ties.
Ten shots separate Kisner and Johnson, who started the week as a 12-1 favorite among Las Vegas oddsmakers, with Kisner a distant 200-1.
The first round proved two important things: 1) Carnoustie still can play as Carnasty, even under seemingly benign conditions, and 2) the 147th British Open is wide open, with many in the field having a reasonable chance to hoist the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli