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  Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
First for success
Soren Hansen at the first on Saturday
Soren Hansen at the first on Saturday
BBC Sport Online's Matt Slater

After four days of practice and competition, you might have thought the players were fairly warmed up by now.

But no, they still like to hit at least one bucket of balls on the range before they tackle the opening hole at Muirfield.

And after spending a wet and windy Saturday morning watching the early starters tackle the 1st, I can hardly blame them.

I would opt for five sand wedges, a couple of putts and a far easier start on the next hole.

Tiger Woods hacks out of the rough on the 1st hole at Muirfield
Woods renews his acquaintance with the rough

The 448-yard par-four opener is one of the nastiest starts in championship golf.

In terms of length, it is modest in comparison with the 490-yard monster par fours currently in vogue in the US.

But in terms of breadth, it is even more modest, offering the tightest imaginable landing area for the players to aim at from the tee.

Any waywardness with that first shot and the course is likely to pinch your ball, as there is no guarantee of even finding it in the wilds that pose as rough at Muirfield.

Add liberal amounts of rain and a tablespoon of wind - as you often get with the July days that masquerade as summer at Muirfield - and you have a recipe for disaster.

But get that first shot right - a steady drive down the left side of the fairway is perfect - and the flat green opens up before you.

A birdie is only a mid-iron and a decent putt away.

That, of course, is easier said than done.

But a good start at the 1st is undoubtedly vital to achieving a low score.

Rare birdies

Two of Friday's heroes, Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, said their great rounds stemmed from birdie starts on the 1st.

But those out early on Saturday found the birdies they needed to spark a charge up the leaderboard in very short supply.

Of the first 63 players to tackle the 1st in the third round, only seven managed to pick up a shot.

Nineteen dropped a shot, three dropped two and the rest escaped with pars.

I would have watched more but the weather defeated me, although I did get to a TV in time to see Tiger Woods push his two-iron into the rough for the third day in succession.

And this time the world number one was not able to save his par - one-nil to under-sized Muirfield.

A hole this tough - and it has been the hardest on the course all week - so early on, is a beast of a way to start a round of golf.

But then nobody ever said winning The Open would be easy.

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