It was surreal: Playing in his first major championship, Haydn Porteous made his first inroads on par with a pair of eagles in the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club on Thursday. He followed that with two birdies, and, suddenly, he was leading The Open.
Troon did not continue to be soft-hearted for the winner of the Joburg Open, and the homeward nine bared its teeth as he made six bogeys and a birdie to go 10 shots worse than the 30 strokes in which he turned.
But when the dust settled on the storm he had caused – one writer jokingly tweeted that the internet connection in the media centre was going to crash because so many journalists were googling Haydn Porteous – he was still one-under after the opening round of his first major, on a course that caused plenty of agony for plenty of players ranked higher than him.
What Porteous’ round had in drama, Zander Lombard’s had in grit. He only made 56 percent of the greens in regulation on his way to a two-under-par 69, but he backed that up with a scrambling game of rare quality and with just 25 putts. A share of 22nd in his first major championship round was a great reward for perserverance.
Of course, their efforts were eclipsed by the astonishing eight-under-par 63 carved out by Phil Mickelson, who reminded everyone just how inventive he is by going lower than anyone ever at Royal Troon, and coming within a lipped-out putt on 18 of the lowest round ever in a major.
Mickelson played with Ernie Els, who pieced together a solid opener himself as he carded a level-par 71. And Els was rooting for Mickelson to get that record: “We’ve shared our careers together. We’ve competed against each other. We’ve pulled for each other. We’ve had a lot of moments that we’ve shared together, and that was another one that was really fun. He’s a special guy,” said Mickelson.
“The way he played out there today, it’s amazing he’s only won one Open Championship,” said Els. “It was beautifully played. He was in total control of the ball.”
Besides Porteous’ and Lombard’s performances, the best by a South African was that three-under 68 by Richard Sterne. He qualified for The Open only two weeks ago, and he managed better than most to keep from imploding on the homeward nine: He matched one bogey – on the 13th – with the first birdie of the day on the infamous Railway Hole, the 11th.
Branden Grace was also on one-under, while Louis Oosthuizen made his second hole-in-one in a major this year when he aced the 14th to help him get out of a round that was going nowhere. “I hung in there,” he said. “I made good saves on 11, 12, and 13 for pars and then that happened on 14, which just turns your mind-set around. Then it was just about getting in, finishing the round off so that I can focus on tomorrow. It could have easily been five, six-over.”
Charl Schwartzel (one-over), Brandon Stone (two-over) and George Coetzee (four-over) all finished the first round over par.