Zach Johnson has sure figured out how to play the first round of the British Open.
Rory McIlroy can’t seem to figure out anything.
Bouncing back from a tough loss last weekend, Johnson seized the lead with a 5-under 66 on a sunny Thursday at Muirfield — another brilliant opening after a 65 at Lytham last year.
The immediate future looks pretty bleak for McIlroy, who showed no signs of snapping out of his baffling slump this season, struggling mightily to a 79 that marked the second-worst round of his Open career. The only time McIlroy shot worse was an 80 at St. Andrews in 2010.
Mark O’Meara ripped through the front nine as though he was in his prime — not a 56-year-old who has combined to shoot 76 over par in the past decade at golf’s oldest major. He finished with a 67, tied with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello at just one stroke off the lead.
No one played better on the front side than unheralded Shiv Kapur of India, who birdied six of the first seven holes and made the turn with a 6-under 30, briefly moving to the top line of the leaderboard. But the back nine was playing much tougher, which the 31-year-old from New Delhi discovered right away. He three-putted for double-bogey at the 10th to drop back.
With greens were slick as ice, having baked in the unseasonably dry Scottish weather over the past few weeks, several golfers — Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter among them — complained about everything from the pin placements to the speed of the putting surfaces.
“The eighth hole is a joke,” Poulter said. “The 18th needs a windmill and a clown face.”
With four of his five birdies on the back nine, Tiger Woods opened with a 2-under 69.
Former champion Louis Oosthuizen was forced to withdraw with a neck injury after eight holes while Peter Hanson pulled out with a back problem after just five holes.
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask. ran into some trouble on the back nine at Muirfield. After making the turn in his first ever Open Championship in 1-over, DeLaet double bogied No. 10 and picked up two more bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15 to start the tournament with a 76.