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Clarke fumes after limp defence

ESPN staff
July 19, 2012 « Rory proves his KO power | Chartbeat test »
Ernie Els: 'I really feel good about my game - I don't want to get too cocky, but I've found something that's caught on' © Getty Images
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ESPN will have live updates and exclusive coverage from the Open Championship when it gets underway this week - with reporters at Royal Lytham & St Annes to bring you all the insight

Defending champion Darren Clarke continued his struggle for form with an opening round of 76. He said: "The crowd was great. They kept shouting for me and showing me support. Unfortunately I couldn't reciprocate.

"I don't think you could publish my thoughts right now. I had a lovely tee shot to the first and made a pure putt. From there, it just got worse.

"I've hit it well in practice and hit it well on the range, and I went there and I couldn't do it. I started hitting it in the bunkers. Even though my strike was good, I was starting too many shots right of my target, and I couldn't quite figure out a way to get it back on line again."

Lee Westwood admitted his game was in disarray after a 73: "It was nice to birdie the first two holes, but I don't feel in control of the ball at the moment. And you get found out pretty quickly around an Open Championship golf course, no matter what the conditions are like.

"I've been working on it for three or four weeks now since the US Open. I didn't feel like I hit it that great there. Just sort of got away with a lot. Just one of those things. You can't have great form all the time.

"I need to play better than I played today. I'm not going to make up any shots playing like that."

Tiger Woods is firmly in contention at three under, and he was not surprised to see the mild conditions: "The forecast hasn't been right all week, so [the nice weather was] probably just standard. Whatever we hear on TV, we don't expect it.

"If you miss the fairways here you're going to pay the price. I've proved I can hit the ball well, putt and do all the things you can do to win tournaments. It's just a matter of winning the right ones."

Adam Scott after a 64 gave him the early clubhouse lead: "Great start, it was perfect out there, the rain softened it up and there was hardly a breath of wind. So it's pleasing to take advantage of that.

"Still, you have to hit good shots, and I got off to a shaky start, didn't hit the first three fairways or greens, scrambled a little bit then found my rhythm and played beautifully. If you hit good shots, you can make birdies because the wind's down.

Darren Clarke was livid at his performance © Getty Images
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"Hopefully the wind gets up a little bit and we'll see the leaderboard spread out a little bit - you'll have to play well to stay up there. I would like to see it blow, I feel my game's in good shape and I have a good feel for the course in tough conditions."

Paul Lawrie after posting a 65: "Missing every green and chipping in at the third and fifth was nice, then a 25-footer at the sixth. Most bizarre six holes of my career. Three under and could have been one over. You need that luck.

"There was no wind at all really today, guys are obviously changing their gameplan to it - but I'm not."

Ernie Els signed for a 67 and said: "I enjoyed today, it was very benign out there and as I said earlier in the week, if we don't have any wind then it's so soft that you can take advantage. I felt good out there - a couple of iffy holes, but overall very nice. I really feel good about my game - I don't want to get too cocky, but I've found something that's caught on.

"Today was a big day: you can't win it today, but you need to be in contention."

Bubba Watson was cheered by his 67: "I was more conservative than usual. A lot of irons off the tees. The key was hitting the long irons really well. I hit it really solid, only two bad shots all day. I went for my shots at the US Open [where he missed the cut], but here we developed a gameplan to hit the fairways."

Graeme McDowell, proud owner of a 67: "There's been so much chat about how bad the weather's going to be, how unplayable the course is, and it was kind of weird to be out there this morning in shirt sleeves and looking at four, five and six under par. The conditions were a lot easier than we've been practicing in, and there were a lot of birdies to be made."

Former Masters champion Zach Johnson is firmly in contention after an opening round of 65, which briefly threatened to be even better. He said: "I feel it's one of those tournaments where if you hit bad shots, it's usually a bad result. You hit good shots, you can get some good results. You can hit good shots and have bad results. So the point is the more solid you can hit the shot, the better the result can be.

"I'm not trying to be too philosophical here. But my point is a quality shot can turn into pars and eliminating doubles. With conditions like this, obviously an occasional birdie. So my whole philosophy this week is avoiding those fairway bunkers and hitting solid shots, because I'm putting fine."

Sergio Garcia, playing alongside Woods, scrambled his way to an opening 72. He said: "Obviously I hit a couple of good shots here and there, but I didn't feel comfortable all day. I haven't felt comfortable all week, just not able to swing the way I know I can. Obviously it's a shame because it was an ideal day to shoot a decent score and unfortunately my game just wasn't up to the test."

After shooting 70 on the opening day, Padraig Harrington believes his best is yet to come:: "I didn't really put myself in much trouble all day. So, yeah, I think the 70 reflects how I played. But I definitely could play a little bit better if I got out of my own way."

Luke Donald started his campaign on solid footing, shooting even-par on Thursday:: "It was one of those days where I felt like I played pretty solid. I hit a lot of good drives, some pretty solid irons. Hit a lot of greens. Didn't get a lot out of it on the greens, and obviously that last hole leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

"Still it's hopefully a round I can build off. It's an improvement from obviously the last major. And looking forward to hopefully going out in the morning and getting some good conditions and making a few birdies."

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