McGinley emerges from gloom

By Brian Keogh

Paul McGinley emerged from the little shop of horrors onto quality street with an amazing 67 at Carnoustie.

The Dubliner, 40, hasn't had a top ten finish since last October and slumped from 18th in the world to 170th in the space of 18 months.

But he banished all his demons with a magical four-under par round at the course they call The Beast - taking just 23 putts and racking up six birdies and two bogeys to grab the early lead.

Pal Padraig Harrington got some of the credit for the turnaround by giving McGinley valuable advice and hooking him up with mental coach Dr Bob Rotella.

And McGinley was pleased as punch to rediscover the magic touch that has brought him three Ryder Cup triumphs and Volvo Masters glory.

He said: "It obviously feels wonderful. I'm very pleased because my golf hasn't been great the last for most of this year. I've been making a lot of cuts but not performing with a lot of quality. The thing that pleased me most was I played with quality today, and it's a pretty good tournament to do it in.

"What's changed? I wish I knew. I found a swing key on the practise ground which sort of clicked into place. I was able to go with it and got a great start, obviously, great momentum. When you birdie the first two holes of a British Open, it's a great buzz.

"The last while it's been hugely disappointing, I can't tell you how much. It's really hit me hard. It's been horrible to be up there to the top 20 in the world, and to plummet as quickly as I have done. It has been a plummet.

"Tom Weiskopf said when he was playing well, he could never understand how he ever played badly, and when he was playing badly, he could never understand how he played well. That sums it up.

"When I was playing that mediocrity golf, as I call it, I thought, Christ, when am I ever going to play well again? I wasn't even doing it in practise rounds

"It's not like I gone way off the planet and missed every cut. But I've played a lot of mediocre golf, and that's what's hurt me.

"I haven't had the big weeks in the last 18 months that I did have before. Everybody lives for big weeks of three or four weeks when things go right. I haven't had any of those. That's what's hurt me most"

This could be a massive week for McGinley and if can maintain his putting touch, he sees no reason why he can't contend for the title.

But he's not getting carried away just yet having led at halfway at Lytham in 1996 and eventually finished 14th behind champion Tom Lehman.

McGinley rolled in birdie putts of five and six feet on the first two greens and then drained a 15 footer at the fourth to get to three under.

A seven-iron to eight feet at the seventh gave him the lead on four under par and he kicked on from there, holing from 15 feet at the short 13th and 12 feet at the par-five 14th to go three shots clear.

Three-putts from the apron at the next and a bunkered two-iron at the 248 yard 16th led to bogeys.

But he rallied well, shaving the hole with a 15 footer at the 17th and then spalshing out to four feet form greenside sand to save par at the ferocious 18th.

He added: "Padraig helped me out a lot this week, so all credit to him. My attitude was really good. When I got that start, I was able to go with it. I didn't play too aggressively, played clever, played smart and let my opportunities happen.

"My achilles heel has always trying too hard, pushing too hard, playing too aggressively. Patience isn't one of my great traits. When I'm playing well it is a great trait. When I'm not playing well, I sort of push too hard."

Conditions were reasonable when McGinely headed out with US Ryder Cup rival JJ Henry and Aussie John Senden.

But he still worse his gloves all the way round and used hand warmers - or "tea bags" as he described them - to keep warm.

The crowd also gave him plenty of warmth with a massive Irish contingent roaring home every birdie putt.

Yet he's not getting carried away with his first round score and knows that there is still a long way to go.

He added: "The bite in the golf course is gone because of the heavy rain that we've had over the last few weeks. But that finish, even in benign conditions, that finish is a really, really tough finish.

"Once you turn there, 15, 16, 17 and 18, particularly in that wind, when the wind is blowing into you, 15, 16 and 18.

"I mean, 18 is such a difficult hole there. I've hit a real good drive, as well as I can hit it, and I've got 240 to the pin, I've got outofbounds left, and big bunker on the right. It's not an easy hole. It's a very, very difficult hole. Anybody who makes par down there to win The Open will have deserved it.

"I've had a great start, but it's three big days to go, and this golf course is so difficult and relentless. There's a long, long way to go. A long, long way to go. Yes, I've had a great start. But we're not even at the end of the front nine yet."

As for the experience of leading in 1996, McGinley admits that he was too inexperienced to deal with the hype.

He recalled: "Playing with Tom Lehman in the third round, he shot 64. It was just a circus. It was something I hadn't been used to or seen before. I remember photographers, 20, 30, 40 photographers around the greens and around just off the tee box, and every time somebody hit a shot there was a massive there was a click, click, click.

"I was overawed by the whole thing, no doubt about that. It was a big, big, big learning curve. Big, big learning experience. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. When I came out the other side, it was well.

"That's what it's all about. That's about what the top level of the game is all about. To see Tom Lehman shoot the score he did and the way he played, it was nice sunshine, great crowds, on TV. It was the first time I was really propelled on to the world stage, and it was, as I say, a big learning curve, big learning curve."