SANDWICH, England – He’s a PGA Tour rookie who had not finished in the top 10 all year until his most recent tournament, which came at the right time because it made him eligible for the British Open at Royal St. George’s.
That was Kyle Stanley on Thursday.
It also was Ben Curtis in 2003, when the unheralded American won the claret jug.
Is there a repeat performance in the works? Stanley has a long way to go, and he played in the favorable conditions Thursday afternoon, but he still managed a 2-under 68 despite a bogey on the final hole.
“I didn’t expect to be here,” Stanley said. “But now I am, and I just hope I can take advantage of the opportunity.”
Stanley was still optimistic enough that he took his passport with him to the John Deere Classic last week in Illinois, which offered a British Open spot to the leading player among the top five who was not already eligible. Stanley thought he had to win, so he was disappointed when Steve Stricker birdied the last two holes for a one-shot victory.
Before long, he was on a charter flight to England for his first British Open. He has been able to do some laundry, although he had to buy some warm clothing in the pro shop.
“It took me a day to adjust, but I’m sleeping well, and I’m pretty tired in the evenings,” Stanley said. “So that’s good.”
The real adjustment comes on the links course of Royal St. George’s. Stanley, who went to college at Clemson, grew up in Washington state. He’s used to a little rain, but not on bumpy turf like a seaside links.
But he feels his game is in good shape for any kind of golf.
AN ACE OF A RECOVERY: Dustin Johnson felt his British Open chances slipping away, mostly because he couldn’t make a putt.
He got right back in the game with a shot that didn’t require a putt.
Coming off back-to-back birdies, Johnson hit a wedge from 161 yards that bounced hard toward the cup and vanished into the hole for an ace, the third of his professional career. He added another birdie on the 17th, then watched a par putt catch the lip on the 18th for an unlikely 70.
“Standing on 14, I wanted to make a few birdies and give myself a chance to get back in this thing,” Johnson said. “If you would have bet me money that I would be 1-under par standing on the 18th tee, I wouldn’t have taken it.”
The hole-in-one looked as though it might run some 20 feet by the hole. Ian Poulter said Johnson turned to him and said, “I don’t care, as long as it’s 4 inches under.”
Johnson tossed the ball into the gallery. He doesn’t get too excited about moments like this, and when someone asked if it was hard to calm down on the next tee shot, the laid-back Johnson stared back blankly.
“I’m not very excited,” he said. “I’m going to go home and sleep.”
Moments later, he showed a large lump on his neck, the produce of swollen glands. Johnson said he has an infection and began taking antibiotics on Wednesday. The finish was a good tonic in its own way.
CALC’S BRITISH: Mark Calcavecchia doesn’t get in any other majors anymore unless they’re of the senior variety. That makes him appreciate his annual trip to the British Open even more.
Not to say Calcavecchia still can’t play a bit. His 69 in Thursday’s opening round would have been a good score even if he wasn’t a member of the Champions Tour.
“I just get fired up coming over here, and even if I hadn’t won the thing once, I would have told you it was my favorite,” said Calcavecchia, who won the British in 1989 at Royal Troon.
Calcavecchia arrived on Tuesday and played only five holes of practice at Royal St. George’s before going out early and posting his 1-under-par round. The 51-year-old Calcavecchia said he plans to take advantage of his former champion’s exemption as long as he can.
“Just coming over here, the atmosphere, the one week here of links golf and wind and weather and bounces, the stands, everything about it I love really,” he said.
Calcavecchia said his dream would be to win the Open again, but that he would take what he gets.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t get mad and just do the best I could every hole,” he said. “So one day down and three to go.”
LEADING OFF: History suggested Jerry Kelly might not have been the best guy to lead off Thursday morning at Royal St. George’s. The last time he played the first hole here in the British Open he shot an 11.
Kelly was better in the first round this year, making a bogey 5 after bouncing a sand wedge over the green. Still, thoughts from eight years ago were on his mind.
“I recognize the irony in it after what happened last time,” Kelly said.
Kelly shot an 86 that day and withdrew from the Open. He got around in 74 on Thursday, finding Royal St. George’s to be a much different course than it was then.
“The rough at No. 1 (in 2003) was up to the waist,” Kelly said. “Now it’s just up to the knees, but it’s the coverage underneath that was so heavy before. It’s much more playable this time.”
THE ONE-TWO PUNCH: Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the top two players in the world, each had 71 on different sides of the draw. Donald wasted a strong start in the tough morning weather, while Westwood had to birdie two of his last five holes in the afternoon.
Donald said his putting, not the pressure of playing before a home English crowd as the world No. 1, was to blame.
“I felt like I played a pretty solid round other than some missed opportunities on the greens,” Donald said. “I had three or four lip-outs and a few other opportunities that went amiss. It really could have been a very good round. A 71 is still solid, but it certainly could have been a little bit better if I’d have had the putter going.”
Westwood made three straight bogeys early in his round and made the turn in 38. He was helped by birdies on the 14th and 15th, and not dropping any more shots coming in.
“It could have been a lot worse - 3 over through five holes is a poor start, and you don’t want to be chasing in major championships,” he said. “My game was pretty good today. I hit a lot of good shots. Like I say, on the greens I didn’t capitalize on it.”
“You can imagine who that’s after,” Lewis said, referring to Jack Nicklaus if it’s still not clear.
That led to a natural question of whether his brother plays golf, and how well. Lewis showed some humor when he leaned forward into the microphone and made sure he understood the question.
“Is he any good? No,” he said, as the room broke into laughter.
Then came some perspective.
“I think he (plays) off about 7, so he can play,” Lewis said. “I’m sure he’ll beat half the people in here.”