RIO DE JANEIRO — On a day of firsts for Olympic golf, Marcus Fraser of Australia had the one that mattered — the first-round lead.
Fraser ran off four straight birdies before the wind arrived and kept right on going until he had an 8-under 63, giving him a three-shot lead over British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Graham DeLaet of Canada.
Better yet? He set an Olympic record Thursday, though that was hardly a surprise considering golf had not been part of the Olympics since 1904.
“That’s pretty cool,” Fraser said. “So hopefully, that lasts all week.”
There was plenty for golf to celebrate in its return to the Olympics, from the opening tee shot by Adilson da Silva of Brazil to the first hole-in-one by Justin Rose, who wasn’t even sure his 7-iron from 189 yards on the fourth hole had gone in the cup until he heard the crowd.
And yes, it was quite the crowd.
No one was quite sure what to expect from the gallery on the first day, in a country with very little golf heritage and with no medals awarded until Sunday. Padraig Harrington was surprised to see more than 6,000 spread out across Olympic Golf Course, holding flags along the fairway ropes and sending cheers from all corners.
It all started with da Silva, the only Brazilian in the 60-man field, so nervous over that opening shot that “my head was everywhere,” he said. His drive went straight down the middle, and golf was on its way.
“The end of a long journey,” said Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation. “Or the beginning of a new one.”
DeLaet, who has struggled with the yips in his short game so badly that he took six weeks off this summer, was in the first group to honor George Lyon, the Canadian who last won a gold medal in golf at the St. Louis Games. He didn’t need much of a short game by hitting 14 out of 18 greens. And he knows his history.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won a gold,” DeLaet cracked when he finished.
Stenson was in the last group and faced the strongest wind, but the Swede who set a major championship scoring record at Royal Troon dropped only one shot. His biggest struggle was with fans taking photos with their mobile phones.
“It was a patience test out there,” Stenson said. “I think we had to back off quite a lot of shots. There were more mobile phones and cameras than normal, I guess because it’s a different crowd out there than we normally have.”
The biggest surprise came from the Americans.
Rickie Fowler said earlier in the week that with four Americans in the field — no other country has more than two — they could sweep the podium. After one round, Matt Kuchar at 69 was the only American to break par.
Fowler had a 30-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, and four putts later he walked off with a double bogey. It didn’t get much better from there. Fowler shot a 75, beating only two players — Rodolfo Cazaubon of Mexico and Lin Wen-Tang of Taiwan.
Bubba Watson couldn’t buy a putt and started his back nine with a tee shot into a native area with sand thick enough to host beach volleyball. That led to a double bogey and he wound up at 73. Patrick Reed made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch after making the turn and shot 72.
“Horrendous,” Reed said.
More than half of the field was at par or better. Adding to the Olympic spirit is that the 10 players who shot 68 or better came from nine countries.
The vibe on the first tee was strong, not nearly the level of a Ryder Cup, but different from other tournaments with players dressed in team colors and being introduced by country.
“The nerves don’t get me very many places. Here it was a little different,” Kuchar said. “I think I was the first American to tee off today. To hear my name announced as an Olympian and to go tee off, there were a few more butterflies than I anticipated.”
Harrington, one of four players chosen to present golf’s case to the International Olympic Committee when it was voted back into the games in 2009, said he was more nervous on the opening tee than when he played his first major. And then he opened with a bogey.
He rallied for a 69, but on this day, the score was only part of what mattered.
“I said it to the guys walking off, ‘Now we are Olympians,’ and nobody can take that away from us,” he said. “When you think about it, most weeks you have 156 guys playing, 155 losers. This week, you have 60 guys playing, and we are all winners.”