Adam Scott made a solid start in his quest for British Open redemption as American Zach Johnson seized the first-round lead at Muirfield.
Scott was the sole member of a 12-strong Australian contingent who didn’t go above par as he survived brutal afternoon conditions on the fast and furious links course.
The US Masters champion’s even-par 71 put him tied for 21st and five shots behind Johnson, who blitzed the front nine earlier on Thursday to set up a one-shot advantage over compatriot Mark O’Meara and Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Big guns Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are lurking ominously after opening rounds of two-under 69 but local hopes Justin Rose (75), Graeme McDowell (75), Rory McIlroy (79) and Luke Donald (80) struggled.
Jason Day, who battled through the pain of a wrist injury, and Marcus Fraser were tied 47th at two over while veterans Peter Senior and John Wade were a shot back, one better than Geoff Ogilvy.
The rest of the Australians struggled but not so Scott, who is looking to make amends for his dramatic late collapse at the 2012 event, when he effectively handed victory to South African Ernie Els.
Having since captured his first major title at Augusta in April, Scott stepped on to the first tee on Thursday already feeling like a weight had lifted from his shoulders.
However he still remains hungry to lift the Claret Jug and atone for last year’s disaster.
“It’s a little easier to perform having won a major now but I still haven’t won the Open and I’d dearly love to,” Scott said.
While the 33-year-old has plenty of work to do to catch the leaders, Scott’s was a fair start under the circumstances.
Players struggle on fast Scottish greens
A spell of hot and sunny Scottish weather in recent weeks had most players expecting the course to be quick but many struggled to hold up the ball on lighting-fast greens that became firmer throughout the day.
Scott had his share of struggles in a round featuring four bogeys and four birdies, three-putting on the 18th green to drop a shot he had picked up by draining a 20-footer on the previous hole.
“There was a lot of good stuff out there today but a couple of surprises, just with how firm the course has got again overnight even,” said Scott, who should get softer morning conditions when he tees off at 9.11am local time on Friday (6.11pm AEST).
“Especially the greens at the end of the day. Some of them, it’s like glass around the hole.
“It’s testy, you’ve got to be really careful and I made a couple of great putts today but I also let a few slip away so I think even is pretty reflective of how I played.”
Several players were critical of organisers, labelling some pin positions unreasonable in the conditions, while Scott considered them “borderline”.
Johnson and Mickelson were among those who expressed concerns and Woods could see their point.
“It was tough. The golf course got progressively more dried out and difficult as we played,” he said.
“I’m very pleased to shoot anything even par or better.”
Mark Leishman (76), Steven Jeffress (76) and John Senden (77) face a battle to survive the cut while Brendan Jones (78), Brett Rumford (79) and major rookie Stephen Dartnall (80) also did it tough.
Defending champion Els had a three-over 74.