The British Open is the most weather-dependent and volatile major championship in golf, with playing conditions dramatically changing without much notice. This week at Muirfield, however, the forecast is mostly clear with no rain and relatively benign wind -- a far cry from the last time The Open was here in 2002, where the third round featured what many feel was the toughest weather conditions in major championship golf.
But even though there's little-to-no rain in the forecast, the weather is still having a severe impact on the field and creating a course that's much different depending on when a player's tee time is scheduled. The summer months, particularly July, have been uncharacteristically dry and hot in Scotland. The players arrived at Muirfield on Sunday and Monday to a setup that was already crisp and rolling firm and fast. Many repeatedly stated that the layout is the "fairest" on the Open rota, because everything is in front of you and there are no hidden bunkers or burns lurking.
But that refrain changed on Thursday, with firm and fast bordering on the edge of unfair. Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter were just some of the players to comment on how hard things were getting up around the greens. Poulter was the most direct, saying that the pin placement on No. 8 was a joke and that No. 18 should have had a clown's mouth around it.
The conditions only became more difficult as the day wore on, with more sun and wind baking and drying out the already concrete-like surfaces peppered with challenging pin placements. It even led Phil Mickelson, who navigated the course in the morning wave, to empathize with what the groups going out in the afternoon would face.
So with the weather supposed to stay relatively sunny and dry, who will get the bad end of the afternoon draw on Friday? Here are the tee times for all the players under par after Round 1(along with Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, two regular contenders who are also hovering). All times are ET (add 5 hours for local time):
|Place||Player||Round 1 Score||Round 2 Tee Time|
|T2||Mark O'Meara||-4||2:05 a.m. (7:05 a.m. local)|
|T4||Tom Lehman||-3||2:16 a.m.|
|T9||Jordan Spieth||-2||2:49 a.m.|
|T15||Martin Laird||-1||3:11 a.m.|
|T15||Henrik Stenson||-1||3:22 a.m.|
|T27||Lee Westwood||1||4:00 a.m.|
|T27||Hunter Mahan||1||4:22 a.m.|
|T9||Tiger Woods||-2||4:44 a.m.|
|T9||Francesco Molinari||-2||5:06 a.m.|
|T4||Shiv Kapur||-3||5:39 a.m.|
|T15||Oliver Fisher||-1||6:33 a.m|
|T9||Todd Hamilton||-2||6:44 a.m.|
|T4||Miguel A. Jimenez||-3||7:39 a.m.|
|T2||Rafael Cabrera-Bello||-4||7:50 a.m.|
|T4||Dustin Johnson||-3||8:45 a.m.|
|T15||Bubba Watson||-1||8:45 a.m.|
|T4||Brandt Snedeker||-3||9:12 a.m.|
|T15||Gonzalo Fdez-Castano||-1||9:34 a.m.|
|T9||Phil Mickelson||-2||9:45 a.m.|
|1||Zach Johnson||-5||10:07 a.m.|
|T9||Angel Cabrera||-2||10:18 a.m.|
|T15||Ken Duke||-1||10:29 a.m.|
The old timers O'Meara and Lehman will be out first at the crack of dawn in Scotland, with 19-year-old Spieth also getting a favorable early morning tee time. Tiger, who had to contend with the late afternoon baked out track, will be out at 9:45 a.m. local time and should get in before things get too extreme. That's why his holding on at 2-under 69 on Thursday was so impressive and crucial, as he's now set up for a nice little run towards the top of the leaderboard at the midpoint.
Phil Mickelson and first-round leader Zach Johnson could have it the worst on Friday, with tee times that will result in rounds not finishing until the early evening in Gullane. Mickelson is out just before 3 p.m. local time, with Johnson playing two groups behind him.
All of this presumes that the weather will be comparable to today's sunshine. It's not necessarily the worst thing in the world if each side of the draw has to play in the more difficult conditions at least once, as in the end, that's the fairest test. It's weather changes like 2002 that are the most unfortunate, as pretty much half the field was wiped out simply because of where their tee time fell.
The one advantage Thursday's early-morning players likely do have is that the R&A should water or syringe the greens heavily overnight, and set up more benign pin placements on Friday after all the grumbling in the first round. If nothing is done, they'll lose the course and it could be unplayable by Sunday's final round. Even with those alleviating measures in place, the morning tee times, on less-trampled and receptive greens, have the advantage on Friday.