SOUTHPORT, England — Stuart Manley was up part of the night tending to his 6-month-old son, and so nervous when he stood on the first tee that he thought he wouldn’t be able to hit the ball.
By the time he had finished his first round in the British Open the journeyman from Wales had the equally hard task of explaining how he somehow managed to get on the leaderboard Thursday at Royal Birkdale.
"I didn’t dream of it. I didn’t think about it," Manley said. "I just thought, post a decent score, give myself tomorrow for making the cut and have a good weekend. I didn’t really dream I’d be sitting here and being the leader after round one, so far anyway."
Manley had his reasons for being surprised. At the age of 38 — after 13 years struggling as a pro — he was playing in his first British Open and just hoping for a respectable outing.
What he ended up with was an eagle-birdie finish that gave him a 68 to put him atop the early leaderboard at the Open — a lead that lasted about an hour before Ian Poulter came in with a 67.
"It happened so quick," Manley said, seemingly still in a daze. "I eagled 17, birdied 18. Didn’t have much time to look at the leaderboards. So it hasn’t really sunk in, I don’t think yet."
It wasn’t as if Manley was in good form coming in to the Open. After qualifying with a tie for second at the Johannesburg Open in February he has made the cut in only one of his last 10 tournaments.
He had a bad night’s sleep. And then an even worse warmup on the driving range.
"I thought the warmup would have gone better this morning, but it didn’t," he said. "So I thought, OK, this is the game I’ve got. I’m just going to have to plot my way around, and it seemed to work."
What Manley did was what more seasoned players are trying to do at Royal Birkdale. He wanted to avoid the fairway bunkers and aim for the front edge of the green on every hole.
Par was his friend, and he made enough of them — 13 to be exact — that he was in position to take advantage of the final two holes.
It was a score he might have dreamed about had he slept better overnight.
"I think I’ll sleep a lot better tonight," he said. "I’m really pretty tired."
Manley, who once considered playing soccer professionally before deciding on a career in golf, has bounced between the European Tour and minor tours and came into the Open ranked No. 520 in the world.
But he said he feels like he is still improving and hasn’t thought about quitting the game. He likes the travel, and likes to bring along his dog, Griff, to tournaments when he can.
"I’m gutted I didn’t bring him this week, to be fair," he said. "He’s on holiday, down in west Wales at the moment."