Friday, July 19, 2013

The Open Championship 2013

The 2013 British Open is off to a compelling start at Muirfield Golf Links in Gullane, Scotland, as Zach Johnson has the lead after a stellar round of 66 on Thursday.

Not far behind at minus-four are 1998 Open winner Mark O'Meara and Spanish upstart Rafael Cabrera-Bello, followed by a slew of impressive golfers in a rather congested leaderboard:

It will certainly be interesting to see how relatively inexperienced but successful first-round players such as Cabrera-Bello and the day's ultimate surprise in Shiv Kapur hold up.

What will also be fascinating to monitor is how veterans such as O'Meara, Tom Lehman and Miguel Angel Jimenez deal with being in contention early on.

American stars Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson are both at three under along with Jimenez, but the most exciting developments on the U.S. side of things arguably come from a former prodigy and a new potential "big thing."

World No. 1 Tiger Woods played sensationally in the afternoon wave when conditions were ridiculously fast, but 19-year-old youngster Jordan Spieth got some of that difficulty on the back end of his round and managed to match Woods at two under par.

Aging Contenders Struggle

Jimenez—and Johnson for that matter—was able to get off to such a hot start in large part due to the morning's conditions.

Knowledge can often be more beneficial on a links course than length off the tee and that will certainly be the case on Friday. However, neither Jimenez nor O'Meara figure to fare particularly well in the afternoon wave.

On the other hand, Lehman is fortunate in the sense that he'll be playing earlier. He didn't get the brunt of conditions, either. Over the past decade, putting has been tough for the 1996 Open champion, which will be compounded by the speed of Muirfield's greens.

Kyle Porter of CBS Sports illustrates this point well:

Officials will likely do something to make the course a bit slower, but the going should still be rather difficult for Lehman and his fellow veterans.

Spieth Shines Again

With such a smooth swing and composure at least on the exterior, there is a certain aura about Spieth that is different from the other young guns.

On a day when other promising talents such as Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero and others fell flat, it was Spieth who emerged with a spectacular round of 69. Spieth only missed three greens in regulation on the day and holed several clutch, mid-range putts.

Golf Channel's Jason Sobel tied Woods back into Spieth in a creative way to show the contrast between Spieth and O'Meara's ages:

Talent never guarantees everything, particularly in golf, but Spieth seems like a different breed. His breakthrough win at the John Deere Classic last week not only got him to Muirfield, but also vaulted him to No. 59 in the world and 11th in the FedEx Cup point standings.

It may be a bit premature to say Spieth has arrived, yet his consistency and ability to adjust to an Open Championship on the fly—literally—are admirable and unique.

Therefore, Spieth should continue to fare well. If he can hole a few more putts, it might not sound too outlandish to put him in the discussion for the Claret Jug.

Dustin Johnson Takes 36-Hole Lead

A four-under 32 to go out got Johnson off to a great start. In the previous three Opens, he's finished T-14, T-2 and T-9, but he might do one better than his runner-up effort at Royal St. George's in 2011.

After some close calls at majors, it seems this could be the week Johnson breaks through. He's won in each of the last six seasons on the PGA Tour and has the prototypical ball flight to thrive in windy and fast conditions.

What's more, Johnson has the added asset of being one of the longest hitters in the world. Combine that with an improved putting stroke, and it's easy to see how he could walk away with the hardware come Sunday.

But first, he'll have to put himself in position, which is precisely what will happen in Round 2.

An eagle at the par-five 17th remedied three bogeys on the back nine in the opening round and served as a much-needed shot in the arm for Johnson that should give him plenty of momentum on Friday.

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