Americans behind at British Open

U.S. players fail to take advantage of calm conditions at Royal Troon

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

TROON, Scotland The fierce wind took the day off at Royal Troon. So did the mighty Americans, who have owned this course the last five times the British Open has been played here.

There was no shortage of spectacular shots Thursday but not from the leaders.

At the end of an intriguing first round that featured an ace, a double eagle and surprisingly limp flags, Paul Casey of England and Thomas Levet of France wound up atop the leaderboard at 5-under 66 with simple, solid golf on a links that might not get any easier.

''When we teed off, you couldn't feel any breeze at all,'' said Justin Leonard, who won the Open at Troon in '97. ''And that's pretty strange for this place. This is probably as good a day as we can expect to have.''

Casey and Levet had no complaints.

Casey birdied two of the last three holes while playing with Masters champion Phil Mickelson. Levet, who qualified for the British Open four days ago by winning up the road at Loch Lomond, did his damage on the front nine with four birdies in a five-hole stretch.

They had a one-shot lead over Michael Campbell of New Zealand.

''If you start thinking about what you've got to shoot, then it starts to get very, very difficult,'' Casey said.

It was plenty tough for Tiger Woods (70), Mickelson (73) and the rest of the Americans.

The list of leaders ran a dozen deep before anyone from the United States could be found. Scott Verplank, Rich Beem, Skip Kendall, Kenny Perry and Steve Lowery checked in at 69. It was the first time since the 1959 British Open that an American was not inside the top 10.

Woods was happy just to break par, making two key par saves on the back nine and following that with a birdie to break par in the opening round of a major for the first time since the '02 PGA Championship.

''As easy as you'll ever see it,'' Woods said about Royal Troon.

Casey had to work for his 66, especially on the back nine. He chipped in from just off the green at No. 10, holed a 30-foot birdie on 11 and made another 30-footer on the par-5 16th after driving into the rough.

He finished with a 15-foot birdie on the 18th that raised hopes of a British gallery that has gone five years without one of its own holding the claret jug.

''I still left quite a few shots on the golf course,'' Casey said. ''It could have been very, very low.''

Gary Evans and Ernie Els felt the same way.

Evans had 227 yards to the hole on the par-5 fourth when his 5-iron ambled up a ridge on the green and disappeared into the cup for a double eagle. It was the first albatross at the British Open since Greg Owen in 2001 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

''I gave myself three chances the first three holes, and I didn't make any of them,'' Evans said. ''And when I brought one in, it was fantastic. Happy days.''

Evans made no more progress the rest of the day, however, and finished at 3-under 68 along with a large group that included Vijay Singh and British Amateur champion Stuart Wilson.

Els also was plodding along when his fortunes changed with one swing, a pitching wedge from 123 yards on the par-3 eighth hole known as the Postage Stamp because of its tiny green.

''That was beautiful, I tell you,'' Els said.

He had other words to describe another par 3, the 222-yard 17th where the South African left a shot in the bunker for a double bogey.

''From such a highlight on 8 to such a lowlight on 17, it's amazing,'' Els said. ''But I shot 69 and I've got to take that. Anything under 70 is good in a major championship. It's not a bad start.''

Also at 69 were U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, who overcame a double bogey-bogey stretch around the turn.

ENDICOTT, N.Y. Kelly Gibson had an 8-under 64 and held a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the B.C. Open.

Showers caused a 28-minute delay on the En-Joie Golf Club.

Rookie Camilo Villegas, Todd Fischer, John Morgan, last week's runner-up, and Kevin Stadler all had 65s.

Brett Quigley, Garrett Willis, Brenden Pappas and Roland Thatcher were another shot back. Tommy Tolles and 1997 B.C. Open champion Gabriel Hjertstedt were among 11 players at 67, including defending champion Craig Stadler, who couldn't match son Kevin on this day.

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