PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The excitement that always surrounds Tiger Woods even brought out the hired help near the fourth hole at Royal Portrush.

They couldn’t help his sore back, or his soaring score at the British Open.

The Masters champion, a three-time winner on the links courses of the only major in Europe, shot a 7-over 78 on Thursday, his highest first-round score at the tournament and second highest opening at any of golf’s four biggest events.

“I hit a lot of missed shots. They were all left,” said Woods, wearing black rain pants and a gray sweater on a day of wet and windy weather. “Wasn’t hitting it solid. Everything was off the heel.”

Woods started the day with the usual cheers and howls as he stepped up on the first tee. They followed him through an opening shot that went left, but he ended up safely making par. A kid in a tiger-suit onesie smiled broadly as Woods headed for the second tee.

The shouts and screams followed the 15-time major winner for the next few holes as Woods held it together, even saving par out of a bunker on No. 2.

Then came No. 4, a long par 4 along the right side of the course heading toward the North Atlantic coast. On the right is out of bounds, where there sits a private home that was ever ready for the day’s proceedings. About 50 people stood by the yellow rope marking the course, watching as Woods made his way toward his ball.

From the house ran a young woman wearing a uniform and an apron, excitedly jumping up and down with her phone at the ready to snap some shots.

Woods obliged with a fourth straight par, but it was the last for quite some time.

With his back always an issue following four surgeries over three years to 2017, Woods’ score began to balloon. A bogey on the fifth was followed by a double bogey on the sixth. Then another bogey.

He racked up six extra shots over those next six holes, getting only one par along the way.

“I’m just not moving as well as I’d like. And unfortunately, you’ve got to be able to move, and especially under these conditions, shape the golf ball. And I didn’t do it,” Woods said. “I didn’t shape the golf ball at all. Everything was left-to-right. And wasn’t hitting very solidly.”

His only birdie came on No. 15. Woods celebrated by holding out both arms to receive the applause of the crowd, then licked his index finger and raised his arm.

DAVID DUVAL lost a few golf balls on his own Thursday. It’s one that was found that brought him the wrong kind of attention with a score of 14 on one hole and a 91 when he walked off Royal Portrush.

“Just one of those God-awful nightmare scenarios that happened today,” Duval said. “And I happened to be on the end of it.”

Duval, who plays sparingly now because of work with Golf Channel, liked his form when he arrived and even opened with two birdies to get his name on the leaderboard during a morning start. That ended with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the downwind fifth hole because of two lost balls.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. The par-5 seventh hole, one of the two additions to Royal Portrush, weaves between dunes with a stiff wind off the North Atlantic into the players. Duval sent his shot into high grass where it was likely to be lost, so he hit a provisional.

So far, not bad.

“The marshal had another ball,” Duval said. “I asked if it was a 2 – Titleist 2. And then I looked at it and saw 2 and then played almost the entirety of the hole, and it turns out with the wrong ball.”

The mistake was discovered by Zach Johnson’s caddie. However many shots Duval hit with the wrong ball didn’t count toward his score, but he received a two-shot penalty for playing the wrong ball – this after already getting two shots for losing the original tee shot. And the provisional ball was deemed lost, so that was another two shots.
The only way to account for playing the wrong ball was to return to the tee to start over.

From there, he was hitting his seventh shot and hit that into the hay. He found it – buried, of course – and could only chop out. Some five shots later, he was back where he was when he first realized he was using the wrong ball – short of the green – and finished off his 14.

IT WAS about 6:30 a.m. when Darren Clarke, sporting a gray beard to match his swept-back gray hair, walked onto the first tee at Royal Portrush to hit the opening shot of a British Open he never thought would happen.

He almost welled up when his name was announced to applause from the packed horseshoe grandstand at No. 1 and the galleries lining the fairway.

An hour later, he was leading the championship after three birdies in his opening five holes, receiving the kind of roars he hasn’t heard since lifting the claret jug at Royal St. George’s in 2011.

“I didn’t think I’d feel the way I did,” said Clarke, who was just as emotional as he strode down the 18th fairway, saluting the crowds with his putter in his right hand.

Clarke wound up shooting an even-par 71. If the score wasn’t memorable, the experience certainly was.

THE STRANGEST weather J.B. Holmes ever experienced was at Royal Portrush.

Just not on Thursday in the British Open.

Holmes, who grew up in a Kentucky town so small he made the high school golf team as a third-grader, dropped a mild surprise after he shot 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead that his first experience in links golf was at Royal Portrush.

“The first hole we had short sleeves on,” he said. “The clouds came up, and the next hole it was raining so hard we couldn’t see. People were losing umbrellas that were blowing away. Three holes later, we were taking all our rain gear off and we were hot again.”

Holmes says University of Kentucky supporters arranged for a noncompetition golf trip once every four years, and this one took place in about 2005. They started at Portrush, and moved their way about Ireland.


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