Gaganjeet Bhullar displayed great character as he twice recovered from reverses in the first round of the 138th British Open to come back with a highly commendable but roller coaster one-over 71 on Thursday.
Bhullar was tied for 72nd in a group that included world No.1 Tiger Woods. The three-time Open champion had three birdies and four bogeys.
Bhullar, 21, coming in without any tournament rounds in nearly two months, took some time to settle down after a shaky start which saw him go four-over after just three holes. He recovered by the end of the stretch and then again lapsed on the back nine, only to recover a second time towards the end on a day when the conditions were just ideal for golf.
Twice in a span of just over four hours, Bhullar, accompanied by his father Harbhajan Singh and psychologist Pradeep Aggarwal, showed great mental strength to fight back and give himself a chance to stay on for the weekend.
The early leader was Tom Watson. The 59-year-old veteran has been talked here all week for his famous win at Turnberry in 1977, when he beat Jack Nicklaus in the epic “Duel in the Sun”. He turned the clock back to take the lead at five-under 65 for the first round.
Bhullar may have played the Ailsa Course no less than seven times in the last two weeks, but when he teed up for the tournament, there was pressure of a different kind. “Yes, I was nervous in the morning, but after some yoga I was calm,” he said.
“After the early shaky start, I realised the greens were much faster than when I had played previously over the last two weeks. I fought back and got those three birdies towards the end of the front nine. But then maybe I was trying too hard and again dropped a bogey on the 10th and a double on the 14th. Still I did not give up,” said Bhullar, who
had a second hattrick of birdies from the 15th to 17th. “I am proud of the way I fought.”
Summing up the day, he said: “I had two bad holes. On the second, I hit a 2-iron on the second shot from the right rough and had a bad swing. Then once I got to the green on third, the first putt made me realise how fast the greens were. I had putted from the same corner so many times last few days, but it was different today.
“Then on the 14th, I had a bad tee shot and it cost me a double,” he said. “It is disappointing to shoot seven birdies and still come back with one-over, but tomorrow is another day.”
Though a huge contingent of Japanese reporters followed Tiger’s group, which included the precocious 17-year-old Ryo ‘Bashful Prince’ Ishikawa, the leaderboard midway through the day had a ‘Senior’ look about it.
While the leader was 59-year-old Watson, the other Golden Oldies on the leaderboard included Steve Stricker (42 years) at tied second in four-under 66. Tied seventh one shot behind at 67 the group included 46-year-old Vijay Singh, 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia and the 56-year-old Mark O’Meara.