Kevin Kisner set the early pace at Carnoustie as the morning starters took advantage of balmy conditions over the Angus links during the first round of the 147th Open Championship.
Kevin Kisner teed off in the eighth group of the day, posting the clubhouse lead early and holding on to it for the rest of the day as the later groups encountered stronger winds and scoring averages increased.
It was a lengthy putt for eagle on the 6th which put Kisner in the red after four birdies and a bogey on his opening five holes, and it was a moment that the American felt to be a crucial point in his round.
“I was 1-over going into the hole,” Kisner said. “Hit a great drive and a 3 iron and holed a long putt, which was kind of the theme of the day. It jump-started the round and continued to make birdies and finished it off with really nice pars on the last three.”
He added a birdie at the eighth before a run of gains from the 13th to 15th holes which gave him a one-shot advantage over South African’s Erik van Rooyen. Some lengthy par-putt saves on the final three holes proved crucial to keeping his spot at the top of the leaderboard, ultimately signing off with an opening five-under 66.
Kisner, whose best previous result in three Open appearances was T54 at Royal Birkdale last year, put a lot of his good round down to an impressive performance on the greens.
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Despite hitting only 47% of fairways and 50% of greens in regulation, Kisner opted to hit a minimum amount of drivers in order to keep it in play, and had just 22 putts – the latter being a part of his game he’s been working hard on.
“I putted so badly at the Greenbrier, and I just really worked hard at it,” Kisner said. “I felt like my ball position got too far back at the Greenbrier. I was missing every putt to the right. So I came here Monday and worked really hard on my speed, which is always the hardest thing for us to get accustomed to here.
“I felt like the greens were not as slow as we've had in the past because the wind hadn't been up yet. The transition wasn't as big a deal. And the ball started coming off on the line, and when I'm doing that, I feel like I can hole them all.”
“I think I only hit four drivers all day, maybe five. I just want the ball on the fairway because it's not an overly long golf course. Maybe 5 iron was the longest. I hit a hybrid into 12. 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.”
Mixed bag of results on day one for the World's best
Kevin Kisner might have had a relatively stress-free round, but No.1 Dustin Johnson couldn’t say the same – and he wasn’t the only player in the World’s top 10 to struggle during round one.
Two golf balls out of bounds, three bogeys, one birdie and a final-hole triple bogey left the best player in the World with a five-over 76 – tying the worst opening round by a sitting World No.1 in The Open.
Sergio Garcia, who finished second after a play-off loss to Padraig Harrington during the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, also had problems on Thursday. A final hole birdie left him one shot better than DJ on four-over with Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed in a round that saw him hitting from out of the barry burn on the 10th.
Elsewhere, Jason Day and Tiger Woods carded even par 71s, and US Open champion Brooks Koepka showed once again he shouldn’t be written off. The American got back to one-over for the tournament with a four-under back nine despite failing to get out of the pot bunker twice on the par-three eighth and going out in five over par.
Meanwhile defending champion Jordan Spieth gave away three shots over the final four holes as both he and playing partner Justin Rose signed for a pair of one-over 72s, the same score posted by course record holder Tommy Fleetwood.
It was better news for the likes of Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy though, who all finished in red numbers on two-under – just three shots behind the first-round leader and one stroke better than Rickie Fowler, Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari.
Willett, Spieth among players to start strong and fade late as Van Rooyen continues some great links form
Erik van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading in to the final round of the Irish Open before losing out to Russell Knox - yet you'd be forgiven for not knowing his name until he charged to the top of the leaderboard during the morning's groups at Carnoustie.
The 28-year-old South African set the first club-house target of the day with a four-under 67 thanks to five birdies a final-hole bogey, making the most of the conditions on his major tournament debut.
As it stands, he and Tony Finau currently lie one shot adrift of two-time PGA Tour winner Kevin Kisner, who had just 22 putts on his way to a 66, three shots shy of Tommy Fleetwood's course record.
Meanwhile, England’s Danny Willett started the day with a dropped shot but quickly moved up the leaderboard during the opening round with a trio of birdies from the 4th hole to post a two-under front-nine of 34.
The 2016 Masters champion added another birdie at the 10th before moving in to a share of the lead with his final birdie of the day at the 13th.
Back to back bogeys on the final two holes halted his impressive run, but he would take a lot of positives as he carded his first under-par round in a major since winning the green jacket two years ago.
“Obviously, an early, early start, but got out there and kind of made the same mistake down the 1st. Played some real solid golf there for the middle of 15. And even into 17 wasn't too bad of a second shot. Just drifted a little bit and just a silly missed putt.
“I know the conditions are as simple as what anyone could really ask for out at Carnoustie. Some funky little flags out there, and the wind was flicking around a little bit. For the main part, you're going to see pretty good scoring.
“it's definitely nice to be stood here after shooting a relatively stress-free 69. You look at the number as a whole and not how we finish or how we start and not the actual number. It's a number in the 60s we've had the past few couple months, which has been really nice and some nice moves.”
Defending champion Jordan Spieth was another player who started strongly but faded on the final stretch, carding a double-bogey on 15 and dropping two other shots on the 16th and 18th holes to end up one-over after his opening round.
For Spieth a few missed putts and an error in decision making led to his final mistakes, although he also produced some impressive creativity and par saves throughout his round.
"it felt like a missed opportunity," he said afterward. "I felt like I was really going well. I had a nice par save after driving it in the bunker 6. Other than that, it was very stress-free. I was putting the ball where I needed to, having maybe no more than fewer feet for par on every hole. It was just a clean round of golf.
"I've done a bit of that this year, just the decision making that's cost me. But the misses towards the end were the exact misses that I've been having and I'm working away from. My swing just didn't quite hold up to the end of my round. Those long irons really hurt me today.
"Drew the ball okay until the 18th hole with the driver. Hit my driver really well, and hit my short irons and putted pretty well. But those long irons just didn't quite hold up on getting the depth and the patience needed on the swing. And anytime I was playing fade with a 6 iron and up on the back nine, it really hurt me. So I know what I need to work on."