TIGER Woods yesterday whipped up a controversy in the opening round of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool by complaining about the spectators’ use of mobile telephones.
After a three-under-par 69, which left him three strokes behind Rory McIlroy – the overnight leader – Woods said that he and his playing partners had been distracted by fans and professional photographers.
One member of the public was reprimanded after a ring tone was heard on the tenth tee. On the 18th fairway, Woods twice backed off his approach shot. On the second occasion, he was at the top of his backswing when he pulled out and glared at the culprit.
Asked about that incident, Woods explained: “People were taking pictures, like we had all day today. There were a lot of cameras out there. We were backing off a lot of shots. A lot of people were moving around. It was tough. Unfortunately, people just don’t put their phones on silent or some of the professional guys were getting on the trigger a little early.”
While spectators are prohibited from taking photographs at The Open, a ban on mobile phones was lifted in 2012. This year, the R&A has promoted an Open App, which can be accessed on free wi-fi around the course. Asked about the governing body’s policy, Woods replied: “Just put it on silent.”
Woods, who underwent back surgery in March, was playing in his first major championship of the year. Despite his frustration with the conduct of those around him, he said it was not the worst he had experienced. “No, no, I’ve had numerous years of dealing with this. There’s a lot of moving parts out there. You’ve just got to stay focused and plod your way around.” The remarks prompted a response from the R&A, which banned mobile phones after they were misused in the 2006 Open, also at Royal Liverpool. In a statement, Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of championships, reiterated the rules for spectators.
“We are delighted to have big crowds here enjoying the golf and I know there are many fans here who are experiencing The Open for the first time this week. We urge them and all our spectators to keep their phones on silent and remind them that taking photographs on championship days is not permitted.”
On a day when Bubba Watson, the Masters champion, complained about the number of people inside the ropes, Woods remained focused enough to exceed expectation in his first major appearance of the season. In a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he recorded five birdies, dispelling the theory that his return from injury was premature.
His was not the round of the day, though. That honour belonged to McIlroy, who negotiated Hoylake in 66 strokes. Out in the morning, before a breeze strengthened across the links, he reached the turn in 32. Three more birdies on the back nine meant that, by the time all 156 players had completed their round last night, the Northern Irishman led by a single stroke.
“Anytime you shoot 66 at the Open Championship, you’re going to be pleased,” said McIlroy. “We had perfect scoring conditions in the morning. There wasn’t much wind early on. The wind started to pick up a little bit on the back nine, but yes, there was plenty of opportunities to make birdies, and I was able to take a few of them.” Matteo Manassero, of Italy, is in second place, with two of his countrymen – Eduardo and Francesco Molinari – among a group of six a shot further back. Stephen Gallacher is the leading Scot after a 70.
The challenge for McIlroy will be to maintain his momentum. His longstanding habit of following a good first round with a horrific second is, by his own admission, starting to play on his mind. He spent much of his post-round press conference addressing the issue. With the weather also expected to deteriorate, today will be a big day for the 25-year-old who tends to plays his best in calm conditions.
“I feel like I’m well prepared for whatever the conditions,” he insisted. “I’ve practised in windy conditions the last few weeks. I’ve practised the shots that I might need for a bad day. You’re really just concentrating on one shot at a time when the weather is like that.
“It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before. I’m used to doing that. I just haven’t done it recently. We’ll see what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.”