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British Open 2013: Zach Johnson Leads Day One

American Zach Johnson has taken a one-shot lead after coming through a difficult opening day that saw some of the world’s top players seriously struggle at the 142nd British Open Championship.

Johnson shot a five-under 66 on a firm Muirfield course to inch ahead of Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello and 56-year-old Mark O’Meara, who won The Open in 1998.

India’s Shiv Kapur, Spain’s Miguel Angel and Americans Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Tom Lehman ended another stroke adrift on three under.

The bookies favourite Tiger Woods recovered from a penalty drop following a poor drive at the first to shoot two-under 69 in conditions which he himself described as “progressively more difficult” due to the course drying out. Tiger is chasing a first major title since 2008 and ended day one alongside Phil Mickelson, Todd Hamilton, Angel Cabrera, Francesco Molinari and 19-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth.

On a stunning day for spectating, if not low scoring, the bouncy, fast-running Scottish links claimed a number of notable scalps. Rory McIlroy continued his decline in form with an eight-over 79, which he then blamed on a series of mental errors rather than technique. "Sometimes I feel like I'm walking around out there a bit unconscious," said the world number two, whose season is becoming progressively worse.

Interestingly, of the field 156, only 26 players ended at level par or better. Ian Poulter finished one over, and Mickelson branded the bone-dry greens and some of the pin positions a “joke” and “unplayable.” But the R&A has defended the set-up, although did admit it would be reviewing its course policies ahead of the second round (Friday).

Johnson led most of the day after reaching six under at the 12th, but he was passed for a brief time by Kapur, who raced to six under after seven despite the tricky afternoon conditions hampering many golfers, until he eventually dropped back. O’Meara also had a share of the lead at one point but fell five under after nine to two under at 15 before an eagle on the long 17th. Masters Champion Adam Scott ended level par, while the reigning champion Ernie Els carded 74.

Elsewhere, Northern Irelands Darren Clarke carded a one-over 72 alongside stable mate Lee Westwood, who is chasing his first major title in 62 attempts.

Justin Rose finished his opening round on 75 along with Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell. After his round, Rose said: "I could not quite get my focus. It's very tricky out there and plays tricks with your mind."

Oliver Fisher and Scotland’s Martin Laird led the British Open challenge at one-under, with English amateur Jimmy Mullen and Wales’ Gareth Wright in the group at level par. Sir Nick Faldo, who won two of his three Opens at Muirfield, shot 79 on his Open return after two years of semi-retirement. The Englishman, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, played alongside 63-year-old five-time champion Tom Watson and fellow US veteran Fred Couples, who both took 75.

First Round Leaderboard:

-5: Z Johnson (US) -4: Cabrera-Bello (Spa), O'Meara (US) -3: Jimenez (Spa), D Johnson (US), Snedeker (US), Lehman (US), Kapur (Ind) -2: Hamilton (US), Mickelson (US), Cabrera (Arg), Speith (US), Woods (US), F Molinari (Ita) Selected: Level: Scott (Aus) +1: Clarke (NI), Westwood (Eng), Poulter (Eng) +3: Els (SA) +8: McIlroy (NI)