Where does the Open leader after the first round tend to finish the tournament?
So what eventual finish could await Phil Mickelson the Open leader after the first round? Well, in theory it could be absolutely anywhere. In practice this is the answer, too.
A quick trawl through recent Open history and you can find one Open leader after the first round who then ended up missing the cut. But you will also see that four of those who have been Open leader after the first round in the past 25 years went on to become that year’s Open champion.
The poor unfortunate who went from being the Open leader after the first round to packing his bags a round later was Rod Pampling, in 1999.
That year’s Open was played over a track dubbed Car-nasty. Australian Pampling led outright after round one with a 71, but when he went round in 86 second time out that was the end of his championship. It wasn’t quite the bjggest fall from grace at that year’s Open as Jean Van de Velde managed worse.
His missed cut gave Pampling an official finishing position of 100th. David Toms, in 2002, went from being in a four-way tie at the top of the round-one leaderboard to 83rd.
The three outright first-round leaders who have gone on to win The Open in the past quarter of a century are Rory McIlroy (2014), Tiger Woods (2005) and Seve Ballesteros (1988).
Greg Norman was in a four-way tie for the lead after the first round of 1993 and went on to win.
Two of those who were Open leader after the first round narrowly failed to take home the Claret Jug. Sergio Garcia in 2007 was top of the leaderboard after every round, but in the final round it was only tied top, and he lost the subsequent play-off with Padraig Harrington.
Adam Scott led in 2012 from the end of the first round to almost the very end, whereupon he made a mess of things, earning not only second spot in that year’s Open but also second spot in our list of Worst Open Golf Chokes.
In the past 25 years, 16 times has the Open leader after the first round held this lead outright. One of these men was Pampling. Another was Graeme McDowell, in 2006, who ended up 61st.
The average position for the outright leaders after round one during the past quarter of a century is 20th.
In nine of these 25 years the first round lead has been shared. In all, 24 men have shared the lead, and the final average finishing position of these two dozen golfers is 19th.
The most common finishing position among the 40 golfers to have led The Open after round one in the past quarter of a century is shared between 1st, 2nd and 4th, with four instances each.
But, in all, only 19 of those 40 who have been Open leader after the first round have finished that particular Open in the top 10.
But, as I explore in another post, the eventual winner of The Open Championship tends to start well, and be high on the leaderboard after round one. The majority of recent Open champions finished round one in the top five. It’s just that being the actual top dog after round one seems to count for surprisingly little.