The first half of the field has played their opening rounds of the British Open, and the course conditions at Muirfield appear to be the biggest story. Multiple players coming off the course, from the outspoken Ian Poulter to the reserved Stewart Cink, either tweeted or commented on how Muirfield's pin placements are on, or over, the edge of fairness.
The weather in Scotland has been uncharacteristically dry and hot this summer, with temperatures averaging around 80 degrees this month and almost no rainfall hitting the East Lothian area. As a result, Muirfield is completely browned and baked, with the fairways and greens running out. The grounds crew at what most players call the "fairest" test on the Open rota spent much of this week watering down the short grass during off hours to keep things under control.
But according to Cink, Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson, the pin placements on Thursday were over the line given the fast and firm conditions. Phil kicked things off in his post-round interview with ESPN, saying that some of the pin placements were "funky" and instructing viewers to watch the players try and contend with pins at No. 8 and No. 18. He even expressed a certain amount of empathy for the afternoon wave, which will have to deal with a course that's been further baked out by the sun and dried out by the wind.
Johnson, who finished the morning wave in the lead at 5-under, said he was "shocked" at some of the pin placements for the opening round. Johnson cited No. 13, a par 3 with a downhill pin placement, and No. 17 as two specific cup locations to watch for the afternoon. Johnson doesn't always speak his mind, but this is now two majors in a row where he's commented on the course setup. At the U.S. Open, Johnson said that the USGA "manipulated" Merion. His comments on Thursday were much more subtle, but it was a lot easier to express "shock" after shooting an opening round 66.
Less subtle was Poulter, the Englishman who came out on Twitter and blasted the R&A:
Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) July 18, 2013
Cink, the 2009 Open Championship winner at Turnberry, added:
Muirfield greens really baking out in the sun. Keep an eye on #8, #9, and #16-18. Overall the greens are the fastest I've seen in the Open.— Stewart Cink (@stewartcink) July 18, 2013
ESPN color analyst Andy North also stated that the greens were the fastest he'd ever seen at The Open. The R&A can't control the weather, which is usually the opposite of today's conditions -- clouds and sideways rain. But they can control the pin positions and that's what has the players talking and griping. Buckle up for the afternoon rounds.