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Friday, June 15, 2012

The First Round Is in the Books

Granted, one round -- especially in a major -- isn't enough to reliably predict what will happen in the next 3 rounds. Still, there are a few things we can say.

For all practical purposes, the lead is -1. No offense to Michael Thompson, but it's hard to believe that he's going to keep up that 22-putt pace. His knowledge of the course will certainly help him but the course won't get easier over the weekend. If he can manage to get 1 or 2 more under over the next 3 rounds, he'll be in pretty good shape come Sunday.

I think if you were +3 or better after Thursday's round -- 4 strokes behind all but Thompson -- you're in position for the rest of the week.

Of the players I "marked off" my list of likely contenders, Tiger and Kuchar were the two big surprises. Kuch was extremely consistent, which I didn't expect given his Driving Accuracy and GIR stats so far this year. And Tiger simply looks to be farther along with his swing than I expected him to be at this point. If it holds up, that can only be bad news for the rest of the field!

Here are the 5 players I picked as favorites. I should note that all 5 played late in the day, when the course should have been getting harder:
  • Ernie Els: +5 -- Ernie was my biggest disappointment. He really put himself behind the 8-ball, which I didn't expect since he was playing so well coming in.
  • Jason Dufner: +2 -- There are a lot of players at this score, so I'd say Jason played an average round.
  • Davis Love III: +3 -- Still in it, but I thought early on that he was going to be at even or better.
  • Justin Rose: -1 -- No surprise here. Justin's been on form all year, and he's overdue for a major.
  • Lee Westwood: +3 -- I'm pleased that he didn't shoot himself out of it Thursday. When your threesome gets on the bogey train, it's easy to just get pulled down along with them. I'll be very interested to see how he comes back today in an early grouping with slightly more receptive greens.
Here are a few surprise players who I think we should be watching as well:
  • Graeme McDowell: -1 -- If you saw his interview on Feherty, you know he said he thought he was finally back on track. I think his play Thursday, as well as his after-round interview, indicated that he'll be in the mix come Sunday. He has been here before, you know!
  • Jim Furyk & Ian Poulter: E -- Both of these guys did much better than I expected, with fairly clean cards. Furyk would especially like to win this one, since he injured his wrist right after his first major and (I feel) never got a decent opportunity to build on it.
  • Ryo Ishikawa, Francesco Molinari & Michael Allen: +1 -- Pleasant surprises from all 3! We've been waiting for Ryo to show up this way, Molinari already has a WGC on his resume, and Allen has been on fire on the Champions Tour.
  • Rickie Fowler: +2 -- This is a good position for Rickie... and it's yet another time he's posted a lower score than Rory when they played under similar conditions. Knowing that probably helps his mindset as well.
Today's rounds should give us an idea who may be up to the challenge this weekend. Brandel Chamblee noted that, in the past 4 Opens at Olympic, two players have managed to separate themselves from the rest of the field by Sunday. With the quantity of strong players currently at the top of the leaderboard, that may be more difficult this time around.

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