- Associated Press - Thursday, July 19, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - The disappointment for Paul Casey was not a 41 on the back nine Thursday that took him from the first page of the leaderboard at the British Open to his ninth consecutive round over par. It was not getting a chance to emulate Seve Ballesteros.

Casey, trying to rebuild his confidence after recovering from a shoulder injury, was at 2-under par for the opening round when he hit his tee shot so far right on the 15th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that it went into an area of concession stands and corporate tents marked out-of-bounds.

That part of the course was used in 1979 as an overflow parking lot which Ballesteros made famous. The Spaniard drove into that spot from the 16th tee in the final round, received a free drop from near a car and made birdie on his way to winning.

"I just think Seve would have loved to have been given the opportunity to play from the tented village," Casey said.

Casey wasn’t aware that area was out-of-bounds _ he’s not a big fan of OB in the middle of the golf course instead of the boundaries _ when he found himself walking amid hamburger, pie and ice cream vendors.

"I would have loved to have carved one around to the green, but I wasn’t allowed to, so that was a little disappointment there," he said. "But it wasn’t a very good shot, so it is what it is."

He went back to the tee and did well to make double bogey, answered with a birdie, and then came another double bogey on the 17th. With a bogey on the finishing hole, Casey had to settle for a 72.

Casey has missed every cut dating to the BMW International Open in Germany in May. He says his shoulder is healthy, but it’s producing good scores that is holding him back. So even after throwing away a good round _ he went out in 31 _ he still had a smile when he finished.

"I was cracking along, wasn’t I?" he said. "Yeah, a lot of good out of that. That’s the best golf that I’ve played so far this year. That front nine was great. It was wonderful stuff. I struck the ball well. And that’s really the goal for the day, to go out there and play worry-free, just enjoy myself. And I did that.

"It shows the golf that I know I’m going to start playing very, very soon."


OPEN DEBUT: Ben Crane’s loss was Michael Thompson’s gain.

Crane and Thompson were at the John Deere Classic on Sunday, a charter waiting to take them to the British Open as alternates. Crane, with a history of back trouble, would have needed two players to withdraw to get in. He went back to Oregon to join his family and monitor the situation, while the 27-year-old Thompson and his wife came over to England.

Robert Karlsson withdrew Wednesday afternoon in surprising fashion, saying his game wasn’t ready for a major. By then, it was too late for Crane to get to England early enough to be in position. Thursday morning, British Senior Open champion Russ Cochran withdrew with a sore back.

Thompson, a runner-up in the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, took his spot. He played 27 holes at Royal Lytham over two days of practice, so he knew what to expect. He was hanging in there at 1 over through 13 holes until a bogey on the 13th and a double bogey on the 14th. He finished at 74.

"It was a great opportunity, a great chance," Thompson said. "I’m glad I came over."

Thompson had a backup plan. The 27-year-old who starred at Alabama was going to take his wife to London before returning to take the charter to the Canadian Open. This was much better, even though he struggled on the greens.

After his round, he sent Crane a message via Twitter.

"Thanks for giving me the opportunity to play in my first (at)The_Open. Sorry I couldn’t take advantage today. I owe you a beer!"

Crane responded, referencing a familiar hash tag used by Bubba Watson by tweeting, "You’re welcome."

A good round Friday could go a long way for Thompson. He is at No. 56 in the world and needs to make the cut and have a good weekend. The top 50 after the Canadian Open next week get into the World Golf Championship at Firestone.


A BIRDIE THAT COUNTED: Brandt Snedeker had to settle for a birdie on the 16th, but at least it counted.

In a practice round Wednesday afternoon, trying to figure out the line if conditions favored hitting a driver on the 336-yard hole, Snedeker made a hole-in-one for an albatross. Hardly anyone was around to see it, and unlike the hole-in-one that Alvaro Quiros made on the par-4 seventh at Olympic Club in a U.S. Open practice round, there wasn’t a camera fixed behind the green to catch it on tape.

"Complete waste of a great shot because it does me no good in a practice round," Snedeker said.

That ace came on his second shot. Snedeker first hit iron off the tee, and that’s what he did with a scorecard in hand Thursday. He hit wedge into 10 feet and made the birdie, sending him to a 66 that left him two shots out of the lead.

"It’s a great short par-4 hole because it’s a blind shot off the tee, so you can miss the fairway pretty easily there," Snedeker said. "And if you want to go with a driver, there’s a chance to make a 2 there, for sure, but there’s also a chance to make a 5 really easily. It puts some excitement in the last three or four holes there, for sure.

"I definitely think whoever wins this tournament is going to play that hole pretty significantly under par."


CAMERAS: The group of Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose didn’t see too many mobile phones in the gallery.

At least for the first few holes. Before long, spectators ignored the signs that no pictures were allowed. There were dozens of them, including one fan using it to capture video. Even so, it wasn’t near the distraction it was at Hoylake in 2006 when players were backing off shots.

There was one problem with Garcia. He was trying to hit a shot out of deep rough on the 15th hole when a young man with a bulging waist line and a pint of beer in his hand took a picture. Because it wasn’t on silent, the sound caused Garcia to back off his shot.

Marshals barked a reminder that no cameras were allowed. The man secretly slid the phone in his front pocket _ just as the ringer went off when he received a call.


CLARKE’S DEFENSE: Darren Clarke had no excuses for not making much of a defense.

The winner last year at Royal St. George’s, he began this Open with a beautiful tee shot to 8 feet, and the birdie putt never had a chance. He bogeyed the next two holes, and Clarke was on his way to a 76.

"I’m basically disgusted with myself," Clarke said.

In 12 tournaments this year, Clarke has made only five cuts _ and three of those events didn’t have a cut. The year has not been a total loss: Clarke’s biggest win was getting married in the spring.

Even so, he wants to perform his best, especially at his favorite major. So he had only one thought walking up the 18th to another ovation.

"How the bleep did I manage to win this last year?" he said.


DIVOTS: Tom Watson continues to defy his age. The 62-year-old Watson, who lost in a playoff at Turnberry three years ago, was 1 under until two bogeys on the last three holes for a 71. … Only three players who led after the first round in the Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes have gone on to win: Seve Ballesteros in 1988, Gary Player in 1974 and Peter Thomson in 1958. … Tiger Woods made a birdie on the par-3 opening hole. The last time he began a British Open with a birdie also was in 2001 at Royal Lytham. … Zach Johnson, one shot out of the lead after a 65, can join Lee Trevino as the only players to win the British Open the week after a PGA Tour victory. Trevino won the Canadian Open in 1971 and the Open the following week at Royal Birkdale.

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