LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- It certainly was a peculiar first round of the British Open yesterday here in Palm Springs, er, San Diego, uh, Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Yes, that's it, Royal Lytham here on the northwest coast of England, where summer has suddenly busted out all over, and the American players who bothered to come over for the 125th running of this championship felt as if they had somehow been transported back home.
Usually, when people are talking about 80s at the British, they're referring to scores shot by hapless, wind-buffeted participants. Yesterday, they were talking about the local temperature of 82.
"This was like a regular day in Scottsdale," said Tom Lehman, one of eight players who shared second place after shooting 67. "Not very British."
Really, about the only thing British about this round of the Open was the leader, Paul Broadhurst, 30, red-haired and pink-faced, who tied the course record with a spotless round of 6-under-par 65. Broadhurst had an eagle and four birdies and nearly as many one-putts as there were cases of sunburn walking around on the old links.
This same fellow five-putted the 18th green during the third round of last week's Scottish Open, and he one-putted six of the back nine holes at Lytham and took a total of 23? Yes, he did. But even if there is nothing unusual about someone who never has opened an Open with a round in the 60s leading the championship, how about some of the other things that transpired at Lytham?
Paul Azinger snapped his putter in two over his knee at the ninth hole and putted the rest of the round with his sand wedge. He shot 74.
Last week's winner, Ian Woosnam, doing a fast burn, nearly disappeared in a bush on the 18th hole, thrashed around, took an 8 and disappeared to a round of 75.
Jack Nicklaus, who couldn't break an egg on the Senior PGA Tour in his last two appearances, shot 69.
There is an amazing amount of sunshine beating down on this place, but no one was expecting mirages. Then again, no one was expecting Palm Desert. Look at it this way: Two players in their 60s shot par (Gary Player and Bob Charles, both former champions here), and there were 201 birdies recorded by the field.
Hot, hot, hot is what we've got, and what is lacking in wind, rain and cold is more than offset by a rainbow coalition of names. True, a player almost needed a U.S. passport to get into the second-place group at 67. Lehman, Fred Couples, Mark McCumber, Brad Faxon, Mark O'Meara, Loren Roberts and Mark Brooks are all there. But so was Hidemichi Tanaka, a 25-year-old Japanese player who was the rookie of the year on last year's Japanese PGA Tour.
So, half of the top 16 players (the American contingent) felt very much at home on the layout at Royal Lytham, a course that opens with a par-3 hole of 206 yards and closes with five of the most difficult holes since, well, last month's five uneasy pieces at Oakland Hills.
With 42 players breaking par yesterday, there have been six times as many rounds under par as there were in the first round and just 14 fewer than the 56 for the entire tournament in 1988.
John Daly, the defending champion, put things into perspective. Although he came into the week saying he would hit driver on every hole, he wised up and hit it on just six yesterday. When he hit it straight, the results were stunning. He drove his ball 342 yards on the par-5 sixth and 382 yards on the par-5 seventh and hit just wedge and sand wedge into each. He birdied both and shot 1-under-par 70.
Pub Date: 7/19/96