LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Adam Scott had a chance at history.
He gladly settled for tying a course record.
Scott equaled the lowest British Open score at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, taking advantage of prime scoring conditions to rip off eight birdies on the way to a 6-under 64 in the opening round Thursday.
The 31-year-old Australian bounced back from an early bogey with a dazzling display — his drives accurate, his irons precise, his long putter reliable. When Scott arrived at the 17th hole, his score was at 7 under, putting him in position to tie the record for lowest score in the Open or any other major (63), or even break the hallowed mark with one more birdie.
Scott settled for par at the 17th, then took a bogey on the final hole after an errant tee shot into the thick rough. Still, he went to the clubhouse having tied the 64 that Tom Lehman shot at Lytham in 1996.
“I’m very pleased with the start,” said Scott, who had never shot better than 68 in 12 previous Opens. “It’s nice just to take advantage of the calm conditions today. It was surprising but very pleasing to go out and play some solid golf. It’s what I haven’t done in the first rounds of the majors this year, and that was my goal here, starting the week, was to play today like it was Sunday and there was no tomorrow.
“I did a good job of that, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me the next couple of days to keep myself in a similar kind of position.”
Tiger Woods spent some time atop the leaderboard, a once-familiar sight at the major championships. He played the first 14 holes at 4 under, finally stumbling after he sprayed his tee shot at the 15th into the thick rough. He needed two whacks to get out and wound up taking bogey.
Still, he finished with a 67 to position himself nicely for a run at his 15th major championship, looking to break a drought in the biggest tournaments that goes back to the 2008 U.S. Open. He certainly had a swagger in his step and showed plenty of emotion, strolling the grounds like he owned the place, mixed in with some anguished looks every time a shot didn’t go exactly where he wanted. He largely played it safe, largely sticking with irons off the tee to avoid the tall, thick rough and devilish bunkers.
The conditions couldn’t have been any better for going low.
An early morning sprinkle gave way to dry weather, the sun making an appearance through the low-hanging clouds. There was hardly any breeze blowing in off the nearby Irish Sea, the flags atop the 18th grandstand barely rippling.
Showing excellent control off the tee — a must at Royal Lytham — Woods got rolling with a birdie at the opening par-3, rapped in another at the fourth, then grabbed the outright lead with a 20-footer at No. 6. He grimaced after each of his first two shots at the par-5 seventh, but was still in good shape, just short of a greenside pot bunker. He deftly chipped right up next to the flag and tapped in for another birdie.
A host of major champions took advantage of a course ripe for the taking. Paul Lawrie, who won a British Open best remembered for Jean Van de Velde’s historic meltown on the 72nd hole, opened with a surprising 65. Masters winners Zach Johnson (65) and Bubba Watson (67) were right in the thick of things. So too were U.S. Open champions Ernie Els (67) and Graeme McDowell (67).
Watson, whose gambling style seemed ill-suited for a British Open, was downright steady — heck, even a little boring. He rapped in birdies when he had the chance and generally stayed out of trouble.
Not everyone took advantage of the benign weather. Defending Open champion Darren Clarke struggled to a 76. Lee Westwood, the English favorite and best player without a major title, got off to a sluggish start with a 73.
The wind was expected to pick up in the afternoon and make things tougher for that side of the draw, which included world No. 1 Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.
But the dry weather was largely projected to last through the weekend.
The last guy to qualify for the tournament, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, made a 25-foot birdie putt at the opening hole but faded a bit down the stretch to finish with an even-par 70. He earned his spot by winning the Scottish Open last weekend.
Unheralded American James Driscoll, playing this major for only the second time, made an early splash by rolling in a 50-foot birdie putt across the first green.
But Lytham bit back — big time.
Before Driscoll was done with the front nine, he had two double-bogeys on his card, along with a triple-bogey 8 on the seventh. He headed to the back side with an ugly 9-over 43, essentially out of contention before most of the 156-player field was even on the course. Even with a decent finish, he still signed for a 76.
Royal Lytham is the shortest course on the Open rotation over the last decade, and it’s on the smallest piece of property, tucked a mile or so away from the Irish Sea and surrounded by homes and a railway.
Accuracy off the tee was at a premium on a layout that featured 206 bunkers, more than any other club in the Open rotation. Also, the persistent rain left the rough even thicker than usual, which should keep the spotters busy looking for balls.
The list of Open champions at Royal Lytham is impressive — David Duval and Lehman, both formerly No. 1 in the world, won the last two times. The rest of the winners showcased in the brick clubhouse are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Then again, trying to figure out the next winner isn’t that simple.
Besides the 206 bunkers, the number getting the most attention at this major is 15 — the number of players who have won the last 15 majors. An even greater sign of parity is that the last nine major champions had never won a major before.
The streak could go to 16 if the betting favorite — Woods — were to win his fourth claret jug and get back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors. Or the 16th different major champion could be No. 1 or No. 3 in the world ranking. Those guys would be Donald and Westwood, both from England and playing on home soil, both trying to capture their first major title.
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