By Andrew Both
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) – Kevin Kisner put a mediocre links record aside and surged to the first-round lead with a five-under-par 66 at the British Open at a fiery fast and baked-out Carnoustie on Thursday.
On a day when some of the game’s less famous outscored the big names, Kisner earned a one-stroke lead over long-hitting fellow American Tony Finau and South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
Players were greeted by the most parched fairways in recent times, a straw-colored hue perhaps even drier than at the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool.
Drives of some 400 yards were commonplace and with only wispy rough and little wind, low scores were plentiful in the benign conditions.
Late starter Tiger Woods, who shot even-par 71, was among those who had to deal with a breeze that finally freshened long after most players were safely tucking into their evening fish and chips.
Spectators who had forked out 80 pounds ($104) for admission feared disappointment when Woods turned up wearing a therapeutic tape on an apparently stiff neck, but he later downplayed the significance of it.
“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up. I’ve been doing this for years, braces and bandages, just that this time it’s actually visible,” he said.
It was a mixed day for the box office attractions.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth was not a model of accuracy, and it finally caught up with the Texan as he dropped four shots in the final four holes for a 72.
World number one Dustin Johnson ran up a 76 that included a triple-bogey at the last, but Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy fared better with a 69.
World number 33 Kisner has not finished better than equal 54th in three appearances at the Open, but is coming to terms with a type of game rarely played on the soft and lush courses of the U.S. PGA Tour.
“Getting accustomed to links golf is something you have to do where we come from,” said the 34-year-old from Aiken, South Carolina, just across the border from Augusta, Georgia.
He grew up close to another major championship which awards its winner a Green Jacket instead of the Claret Jug up for grabs this week but as much as he loves the Masters he would take an Open victory without any complaints.
“My fondest memories are with my dad getting to skip church on Sunday to watch the Open,” he said, before expressing how much he enjoyed the firm conditions.
“The ball’s running 50 to 80 yards on certain shots.”
No course is overly long for the powerful Finau, who averaged nearly 350 yards off the tee, mostly with irons.
“I’ve never played a course this firm,” Finau said. “Even after practicing, it’s still amazing to me how far some of these shots are going, so I had to adjust coming down the stretch, and I was able to adjust pretty nicely.”
Van Rooyen showed few nerves in his first round in a major championship.
Out in the second group of the day at 6:46 a.m., he never looked back after birdies at the first two holes.
“It was playing as easy as it was going to play this whole week this morning, no wind at all, so you had to go out and take advantage of it,” said world number 144 van Rooyen.
($1 = 0.7682 pounds)
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Chopra, Ian Chadband and Toby Davis)