SOUTHPORT, England Although it gradually cleared up as the day went along, the weather was terrible Thursday morning for the first several groups at Royal Birkdale, as the scores indicated.
In all 19 golfers shot 80 or above, including seven golfers in the first five groups when the weather was at its worst. Former Masters champion Sandy Lyle, "retired" after shooting an 11-over 45 on the front nine and a little later in the morning, former PGA champion Rich Beem did the same thing after shooting a 12-over-par 46 on the front nine.
Conditions improved in the afternoon and although it was still windy and cool, the driving rain subsided. But the morning players said the weather was some of the worst they've seen in a British Open.
"It was miserable, miserable, miserable weather," said Vijay Singh, who shot 80. "You've got rain blowing sideways, it was cold, it was windy ... I was always on the defense."
"That wasn't easy this morning," said Colin Montgomerie. "It was most miserable out there this morning. I hit 10 shots on the range and came in it was just a waste of time going out there."
Simon Dyson, who shot an 82, said, "You put a 4-handicapper on the first tee and they'd probably shoot 100. That's no exaggeration. It was nearly unplayable."
The forecast is for less rain today, but windier conditions on Saturday.
WHERE'S PHIL?: With Tiger Woods not playing, many experts figured Phil Mickelson, No. 2 in the world, would have a great chance to claim his first British Open title and his fourth major.
A triple-bogey 7 at the 6th hole and a 7-over 41 on the front nine pretty much killed his chances for '08. Mickelson rallied on the back nine with four straight pars and a birdie, but made consecutive bogeys coming in to finish with a 79.
"Obviously when you shoot 79, you're going to have to come back with something pretty cool to get back in it," he said
Besides Mickelson, other top golfers struggled Thursday.
Joining Singh with an 80 were Boo Weekley and former champions Ernie Els and John Daly, while Geoff Ogilvy, No. 3 in the world, shot a 77.
WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN? Two former British Open champions, who were both No. 1 in the world during their careers but have since disappeared, had good opening rounds and put themselves among the leaders.
Two-time champion Greg Norman, who has played in three PGA events this year and missed the cut in all three, was on the leaderboard throughout most of his round and finished with a 70 and is just a shot off the lead. Meanwhile, 2001 winner David Duval, who has fallen to No. 1,087 in the world rankings, shot a 73.
"I don't play much; I probably practice more tennis than golf," said the 53-year-old Norman. "I've got to keep my expectations realistically low. ... "
OPEN NOTES: American Heath Slocum came to the Open as the first alternate and found out at 9:15 a.m. that Tori Taniguchi had withdrawn and was on the tee for the 9:42 time. "I didn't ask who. All I know is I headed to the range and hit a few balls," he said ... Jean Van de Velde, who will always be known for blowing the 1999 Open on the final hole, had to qualify to get into this year's tourney and shot a 73 in the opening round ... Attendance Thursday was 36,500, down from the 40,000 for Wednesday's practice rounds. More than 200,000 spectators are expected for the week, despite the absence of Tiger Woods.