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Many of the world's best humbled by Royal Birkdale, Mother Nature

SOUTHPORT, England -- Ever play golf in a car wash? Wish you could hit 4-irons in a wind tunnel? Enjoy watching your fingers turn Dodger blue?

Well, we'd love to have you here at the cold and flu season known as the 137th British Open. It's the Kimbo Slice of majors.


"It was miserable, miserable, miserable weather," said Vijay Singh, who posted an opening-round Jeremy Shockey (80, 10 over par) at cold, heartless Royal Birkdale.


"If this is the summer, I couldn't live here," said Boo Weekley, who carded his own 80.


"Can't wait to go home," said Pat Perez, who looked like someone had sprayed him down with a fire hose. "Be there [Friday] night. I might go out tonight."


Perez, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., shot 82. It's not as if he's a stiff; he's ranked 54th in the world and already has made more than $1 million this year on the PGA Tour. But Thursday's merciless conditions (gale-force winds, highs in the 50s, rain) didn't care about rankings or reputations. The scoreboard was one huge bruise. Nineteen players failed to break 80.


Phil Mickelson, one of the pre-tournament faves and the highest-ranked player in the field, had a 79. But look at the bright side: Ten years ago he shot a third-round 85 here. So he has that going for him. Which is nice.


Ernie Els, who almost always plays well in this tournament, shot 35 on the front, 45 on the back for a personal-worst score of 80 at the Open. That wouldn't win the ESPN employee tournament.

Geoff Ogilvy, another favorite, shot 77. Jerry Kelly, who ripped the course setup, had 83. John Daly had a Kid Rock-like 80. It all was so wonderfully gruesome.


"I got to the point where I didn't care," Perez, who has a history of running hot, said. "It doesn't happen often, but I got to that point where you fight, fight, fight, and you know you just don't have a chance.

"I don't think it's golf at all, to be honest with you. I don't see it as golf. It's blowing 40 [mph]. My hands are so cold and everything is soaked. You can't hold on to the club. I don't see that as golf. They do here, but I don't."


Perez woke up at 2:45 a.m. He heard the wind howling and saw the rain flying sideways. "This is going to be some kind of day," he told himself.


He was at the driving range by 5:30. He pulled an 8-iron from the bag, struck it pure and watched in horror as the range ball barely reached the 100-yard mark.


By the round's nightmarish end, Perez had gone through four towels, three gloves and all of his patience. His long-sleeved undershirt was soaked -- and he wore a rain suit the whole day.


"It makes you look stupid out there," he said. "An 82? I don't shoot 82."

Moments later, a British reporter made the mistake of asking Perez about playing Friday's second round. The nearby American golf writers braced for impact.


"Do I look excited about playing tomorrow?" Perez said. "Do you think I really care? I really don't care, to be honest with you. I'm going to play. If something happens, it happens. Stick around. … It's not going to bother me anyway."

Remember how your mom dressed you for winter? That was the British Open field Thursday at Royal Birkdale, especially during the morning rounds. You didn't know whether you were at Steamboat or Southport. Even the gorse ran to the merchandise tent to buy a brolly.


Sandy Lyle, who owns two major titles including the 1985 British Open, called it quits -- I'm sorry, "retired" -- after 10 holes. He was 11 shots over when he walked off.


"It could take three weeks to recover from this," said Lyle.


Lyle's departure wasn't well received by Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, which oversees the Open.


"Disappointing," he said. "I have to say pro golfers should complete the round. That's what they're paid to do."


Craig Parry, the first player to tee off Thursday morning, said 16 holes played directly into the wind. One time he absolutely killed his 3-wood. It went 180 yards.


"You could probably putt it further than that," said Parry.


There was some grumbling, moaning and outright whining about the unfairness of it all. Birkdale has fangs even under the tamest conditions. But the late-developing weather system, along with those teeth, made red numbers all but extinct.


Tom Watson and defending Open champion Padraig Harrington figured their 74s were the same as even par. Retief Goosen said there was at least one hole (the par-4, 499-yard sixth), maybe more, where some players wouldn't be able to reach the fairways with their drives.


We now pause for another rant by Perez.


"You got three holes that you cannot get to in 2," he said. "It's so stupid. I was talking to [a tournament official] out there. I said, 'What are you guys doing out here?'"


Perez on reaching No. 6 in 2 shots: "No prayer. No prayer."


No. 11 (436-yard par 4): "You've got no chance."


No. 16 (439-yard par 4): "No chance."


If Perez was looking for sympathy from the R&A, forget it.


"People say things when they're frustrated," Dawson said, dismissing the criticism.


Meanwhile, Friday's weather sounds delightful. Rain at times, winds in the 25- to 35-mph range. But that's nothing compared to the drench fest expected here Saturday. The official forecast: "Blustery showers, heavy at times … 25-30 mph, gusts to 35, perhaps 45 mph during heavy showers. Strong wind hazard."


In other words, carnage. Could the legendary 1976 British Open qualifying round of 121 shot at Formby by Maurice Flitcroft be in danger? Just a happy thought.


Dawson said Saturday's brutal winds could mean a move to the member tees on No. 11 -- about a 50-yard difference in distance. To the R&A, that's like crying, "Uncle." And then there's the doomsday scenario.


"If the wind is as colossal as that, you wonder if we can play at all," Dawson said.


Don't go soft on us now, Peter. Make them play. Bad for them, fun for us.


Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.