SOUTHPORT, England — The locals along the Lancashire coastline warn to never trust a weather forecast around here, certainly no more than a day out. They’ve been known to experience all four seasons during a summer day, and at all of The Open Championship venues, anything can happen.
But if reports are accurate, Thursday’s short sleeves will be replaced by something far more uncomfortable on Friday at Royal Birkdale: rain gear, gloves, scarves — maybe a campfire would be nice.
“Tomorrow is the bad day from what I hear,” said Steve Stricker, who managed an even-par 70 on Thursday. “It’s going to be a challenge. It’s about your short game, and that’s what I do well over here, is if I miss a green, just rely on my short game to try and get it up and down. Just keep plugging forward.”
While Thursday was far from easy, the scoring suggested otherwise. Overnight rain softened the course to a degree, and when the first group teed off at 6:35 a.m., the rain was coming down pretty heavily.
Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Open champion at Royal Birkdale who is 60 and competing in his last Open, was given the honor of teeing off first. He might rather have stayed in bed. He pumped his first drive out of bounds and made an 8 on his way to shooting 81.
“It was tough only because it was raining and you were wet,” O’Meara said.
But it wasn’t long before the skies cleared and the conditions turned relatively balmy. And as the temperatures rose, the scores went down. Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar — who shot 29 over the first nine holes — led the way with 65s.
A total of 39 players were under par, unheard of for an Open at Royal Birkdale.
When Padraig Harrington won here nine years ago, he opened with a 74 and finished the tournament at 283, 3 over par. Only three players broke par that first day, and they led with 1-under 69s.
When O’Meara won in 1998, his winning total was 280, even par, including two rounds in the 60s — although the first-round lead was 65, held by Tiger Woods and John Huston. That year, the weather turned harsh in the third round, when nobody broke par 70.
“If it continues to blow through the weekend, the weather is on and off, even par has always been a good score around here,” O’Meara said. “If you look at the winning score here through the years and all the Open Championships we’ve witnessed, nobody goes low here. Nobody shoots 7, 8, 9, 10 under par. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but anybody who’s close to par come the last day is going to have a chance to win here.”
O’Meara said that before noon, still raw from his round. But things improved, and all those low scores would suggest a double-digit-under-par winner.
Or maybe not.
A 70 percent chance of rain is predicted overnight, according to The Open’s weather report, with a 40 percent of “showery outbreaks” through noon. Winds will start at 15 to 20 mph and increase to 25 mph, with periodic gusts up to 35 mph. The wind will continue into the afternoon, with an increasing chance of rain.
All of that does not add up to a very pleasant day to play golf.
“I’m kind of prepared for the worst, having experienced it before,” said Spieth, who is playing in his fifth Open. “And understand that I can still make pars that way. You control the ball off the tee, keep your hands dry and you grind from inside 10 feet or you make a midranger for par, something to keep the momentum going; that’s important for tomorrow.
“But being mentally prepared is key. I think I’m going into it the right way, and we’ll see if I hold that together.”