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British Open greens spark complaints from players

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

GULLANE, Scotland – Golfers complaining about course conditions are like models bemoaning a slick runway.Boo-freaking-hoo.

And while the protests fired after the first round of the British Open won't draw much sympathy outside the ropes, they were pointed, harsh and, well, funny.

Ian Poulter made his opinions known on Twitter after firing a 1-over 72.

At issue is the speed of Muirfield's greens. The unseasonably warm and dry weather coupled with a constant breeze shooting off the Firth of Forth – even the seas here sound formal – has made for marble-like conditions on the putting surfaces. On 15, Rory McIlroy lagged a 60-some-foot putt that moseyed by the hole and kept trickling all the way into a backside bunker. On 17, Phil Mickelson tried to lag a 15-footer only to watch it slip seven feet by the hole.

But the most consternation is being leveled at No. 8, where a front-right pin placement sat at the top of a ridge where if players didn't hit an almost perfect putt their ball would spill down, down and away from the hole.

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First-round leader Zach Johnson lines up a putt on the 11th green. (AP)

"Oh yeah, 8 was dicey," Zach Johnson said. "Thomas Bjorn knocked it 10 feet by. If I hadn't seen that, there's no way I would have hit it to a foot."

Johnson was among the supposed lucky ones who teed off in the a.m., before the sun could really bake the greens. Only two of the 84 players who teed off after his 10:06 tee time even flirted with Johnson's 5-under 66, which created a bit of a conundrum: Which was more surprising – that anyone teeing off in the p.m. could go low or that the two players who did it were 56-year-old Mark O'Meara (-4) and Shiv Kapur, who was 6-under at one point before losing ground on the back nine?

This is where a modicum of sympathy might be warranted. The winner could very well be determined by a tee time. That's not necessarily unusual for a British Open, where constantly changing weather often means some players play in better conditions than others. But it's one thing for Mother Nature to influence an outcome, quite another when it's a course manager. And more than a few players are unhappy with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which is responsible for course setup.

"We've got to let go of our ego sometimes and just set the course up the way the best players can win," Mickelson said. "… The greens are dying and the holes are on edges of slopes that the ball just simply won't stay. You drop it, it won't stay by the hole."

The expectation is the R&A will go into heavy watering mode Thursday night in an effort to soften things up a bit, which, if they do, could potentially even things out throughout the day Friday, meaning those who teed off early Thursday maintain an advantage. Or so the theory goes.

"I'm not saying that I haven't complained or gotten upset on the golf course, but I'm not a big fan of guys that get out there and whine a lot," O'Meara said. "I mean, I just don't see any reason for it, especially today's generation. They're so talented, the players today, and they're playing for so much money.

"My feeling is, you look at the volunteers, you look at the media, look at everything. I mean, to show a little bit of sign of appreciation, to be at the top level of whatever sports you're in, that requires some responsibility."

By Thursday evening, nearly half of the players who were under par (eight of 20) actually teed off in the afternoon, which, it turned out, produced very few complaints. But there was Poulter, still tweeting.

"Enough said," he wrote after Tiger Woods fell victim to a slick green at 14, "the best putter that's ever played the game just putted it off the green. I rest my case...."

At which point he continued to defend himself for another hour.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Phil Mickelson, others critical of Muirfield setup
Rory McIlroy's horrible year continues
Phil Mickelson makes little boy's day
Why are fans betting on Tiger Woods to win the British Open?

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