Column: Pros try adapting to a British Open that's playing more like San Diego than Scotland

  • Article by: JIM LITKE , AP Sports Columnist
  • Updated: July 19, 2013 - 7:04 AM

GULLANE, Scotland — Bubba wasn't clubbing much and Dustin wasn't bustin' anything.

The "Belgian Bomber," meanwhile, was completely disarmed.

If you love seeing professional golfers squeezed out of their comfort zone, come visit Muirfield, where warmer temperatures, gentler winds and more sunshine than this corner of Scotland usually sees in a month has produced a golf course that resembles an airport tarmac in more than a few places. Suffice it to say that players who can't — or won't — adapt in a hurry might as well start booking flights home right now.

Like just about everyone else during Thursday's opening round at the British Open, three of the longest hitters in the game were determined not to let the big dog out of the bag. Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson each hit driver exactly once during the round, and the third member of their group, Nicolas Colsaerts, not at all.

The first two adjusted nicely, shooting 1-under 70 and 68, respectively. The big-hitting Belgian skied to a 75.

"On even the long par 4s," Johnson said, "a little 3-iron is going further than a 3-wood up in the air."

"How far?" someone asked.

"I hit a couple today," Johnson replied matter-of-factly, "that probably went 290."

Before we open it up to debate about whether Muirfield — which dates to 1891 and has remained largely intact the past 93 years — is fair or hopelessly zany, it's worth remembering every golfer in the field is playing the same course. And that all knew exactly the kind of fast, firm conditions that awaited them. Even so, more than a few reacted with surprise and about as much equanimity as you'd expect.

"8th hole is a joke," Ian Poulter tweeted, "18th needs a windmill & clown face."

"Each tee you're standing on," Oliver Fisher said, "is just a battle."

"We've got to let go of our ego sometimes," said Phil Mickelson, who by "our" meant the officials of the Royal & Ancient responsible for letting the fairways bake and the rough grow, then stashing the water hoses. He implored them to "just set the course up the way the best players can win."

The empire struck back — in a hurry.

"We're obviously very conscious of player comment and we'll take that into account when we decide how greenskeeping staff overnight is going to set up the course tomorrow," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said.

In other words, deal with it.

The strange thing is that a player's view of Muirfield wasn't always reflected by his score. Mickelson carded 69 and Fisher a 70. Poulter, despite collecting four bogeys in the last five holes, still shot 72.

"I wouldn't pay much attention to him. He's always complaining," laughed Poulter's countryman, Lee Westwood. Asked a moment later about some of the precarious pin positions, the Englishman bared a stiff upper lip.

"Well, they're on the greens," Westwood said. "Actually, I wouldn't have even thought about them if you hadn't asked."

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