SOUTHPORT, England The day started with howling wind and soaking rain. By afternoon, the showers had stopped and the breeze tailed off.
Rocco Mediate was among those taking advantage of the break in the weather.
Mr. Everyman proved his performance at the last major championship was no fluke, becoming the first player at the British Open to break par Thursday. His 1-under 69 was quickly matched by Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby, all of them late starters seizing on their meteorological good fortune.
Mediate chipped in for birdie at No. 17, then knocked in a 12-footer for another birdie at the final hole. Clearly, he's gotten over his playoff loss to Tiger Woods at last month's U.S. Open.
"I love it here," said Mediate, playing the British for the first time since 2002. "It's great to be back."
McDowell and Allenby also headed to the Royal Birkdale clubhouse with birdie-birdie finishes, joining Mediate atop the leaderboard.
This was a day that could be divided into two very distinct groups: Those who had to tee off in the morning, and those who checked in later.
Out of the first 26 threesomes exactly half the 156-player field there were 19 scores in the 80s and two other players quit before they could get there, too. There wasn't one red number in any group. The average score was 77, the numbers jacked up by steady, sometimes heavy rain and winds gusting up to 35 mph.
Among the horror stories: Phil Mickelson lost a ball in the tangly rough; Vijay Singh signed for an 80, and so did Ernie Els, the worst score ever on his sterling Open record; Sandy Lyle and Rich Beem simply gave up.
Certainly, Kenny Perry must have been chuckling to himself after taking all that grief for deciding to skip the oldest of the majors because he didn't think it suited his game.
"It got to the point where you just don't care," moaned Pat Perez, who went off in the second group of the day and shot 82. "Now I know why Kenny stayed home."
Compare that with the afternoon. The next 10 groups to finish produced all three of the co-leaders, as well Greg Norman and Adam Scott, each at 70. No one in the latter half of the bracket had yet to shoot worse than 79.
The 45-year-old Mediate revitalized his sagging career at Torrey Pines, where he lost a 19-hole playoff to Woods but became the hero of average Joes everywhere with his "what in the heck am I doing here" demeanor.
After his dramatic win, Woods headed back to surgery for further repairs on his ailing left knee, knocking him out for the rest of the year. Mediate carried on, picking up right where he left off at the last major.
And this time, at least, he won't have to worry about fending off Woods, all warm and comfy back home in the States.
Before the weather improved, it was virtually impossible to cope with holes such as the gargantuan sixth, a 499-yard layout that played into the teeth of the wind. Boo Weekley was forced to play driver on two straight shots and he still didn't reach the green.
"If this is the summer," said Weekley, a native of the Florida Panhandle, "I couldn't live here."
Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir put up the best scores among the early starters, both shooting 1-over 71s.
"Par is irrelevant on a day like this," said Craig Parry, who hit the first shot of the tournament and struggled to a 77. "You can only laugh and take it on the chin. The golf course is going to win."
Goosen overcame a double-bogey at No. 6 and somehow managed to put up four birdies in brutal conditions that made golf's oldest championship a stern test even without Woods looming over the field.
"One of the best" was how the South African summed up his round. "It was a battle out there."
Weir also had a double-bogey on his card. But he countered it with the first eagle of the tournament at the 17th, where he knocked a 5-iron from 235 yards to 12 feet and sank the putt.
"Starting the day, I definitely would have taken 1-over par," the Canadian said. "The wind was at strong as I've ever seen."
Despite a sore wrist, defending champion Padraig Harrington got off to a solid start with a 74. The Irishman would have been even closer to the lead if not for a bogey-bogey finish, but was pleased with his round given that he seriously considered withdrawing just a day earlier.
"I think the bad day helped," Harrington said. "You had no time to think about anything else but your next shot."
The guy he beat a year ago, Sergio Garcia, shot a 2-over 36 on the front side.
Beem called it quits after reaching the midway point with a score 10 strokes higher. His first seven holes went like this: bogey, quadruple-bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey.
"If I had continued, I don't think I would have broken 90," Beem said.
Lyle, who won the Open at Royal St. George's in 1985, reached a similar conclusion. The 50-year-old pulled out after playing the first 10 holes in an 11-over 49.
"I felt I could do myself more harm than good," he said. "It could take three weeks to recover from this."
They were hardly the only ones struggling. Mickelson, whose game isn't well-suited for links golf, couldn't find his ball after hitting into the rough at No. 6. He had to take a penalty and wound up with a triple bogey, on his way to a 79 that goes down as the worst start of his Open career.
Els, considered one of the favorites with Garcia, fell apart down the stretch with three straight 6s and eclipsed the 78 he shot in the opening round at Royal St. George's in 2003.
Singh took the opposite tack, playing the first 11 holes at 10 over, with only two pars.
"You got rain blowing sideways. It was cold. It was windy," Singh said. "I didn't play that badly."
Others persevered. English favorite Justin Rose, who memorably finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in the last Open played at Royal Birkdale in 1998, struggled through the front nine but pulled himself together for a 74. David Duval, whose career fell apart after his 2001 Open win at Lytham, put himself in contention with a surprising 73.
"It's just a matter of digging in and scrapping it out," Rose said.