Pep talk from cad­die in­spires McIl­roy

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS -

Two great bunker shots by Jor­dan Spieth and Brooks Koepka – one for par, one for ea­gle – led to a 5-un­der 65 for each of them in the open­ing round of the Bri­tish Open.

Koepka, with no com­pe­ti­tion and very lit­tle golf since win­ning the U.S. Open last month, was in a pot bunker short of the green on the par-5 17th when he blasted out and watched it roll into the cup for an ea­gle that al­lowed him to share the lead with Spieth among the early starters Thurs­day at Royal Birk­dale.

Spieth had a bo­gey-free round, and it re­quired great bunker shots even by his stan­dards to keep it that way.

His shot out of the rough barely rolled into a pot bunker to the right of the 16th green, leav­ing the ball on a slight slope near the back edge.

“This is dan­ger­ous,” he said to his cad­die.

He aimed to the right of the hole to avoid it go­ing off the green on the other side and into an­other bunker, and it came off per­fectly about 10 feet away.

“That was awe­some,” were his next words to his cad­die.

He made the par putt – Spieth made a lot of putts on Thurs­day – picked up a two-putt birdie on the 17th and nar­rowly missed a seven-foot birdie putt on the last. It was Spieth’s best start in a ma­jor since he opened with a 66 at the Masters a year ago.

“I couldn’t have done much better to­day,” he said.

Austin Con­nelly was the top Cana­dian af­ter Thurs­day’s play, sit­ting two strokes back of the lead­ers with an open­ing round of 3 un­der. Adam Had­win of Ab­bots­ford, B.C., opened at 1 over.

Royal Birk­dale was much more kind than it was nine years ago in rag­ing wind and rain. The 146th Open be­gan in cool tem­per­a­tures, a light rain and a strong wind. Mark O’Meara, a win­ner at Royal Birk­dale in 1998 who is play­ing in his last Bri­tish Open, hit the open­ing tee shot.

And then he hit an­other one. O’Meara’s first shot was lost in the gorse, he made a quadru­ple-bo­gey 8 and was on his way to an 81. But it wasn’t long be­fore the wind off the Ir­ish Sea pushed along the rain clouds and led to sun­shine in the af­ter­noon.

The wind re­mained strong. The scores were largely good.

Koepka and Spieth led the way, with Ian Poul­ter, Justin Thomas and Richard Bland in at 67. It was a busi­nesslike day in more ways than one for Thomas, who wore a tie loosely draped around his neck and a cardi­gan sweater. He wasn’t all about mak­ing a fash­ion state­ment. Thomas, who shot a 63 SOUTHPORT, Eng­land - Rory McIl­roy was stand­ing on the sixth tee and al­ready doubt­ing his chances of mak­ing the week­end at the Bri­tish Open when his neg­a­tive thoughts were in­ter­rupted by his cad­die, J.P. Fitzger­ald.

“He re­minded me who I was, ba­si­cally,” said McIl­roy, a four-time ma­jor cham­pion. “He said: ‘You’re Rory McIl­roy, what are you do­ing?”’ Ini­tially, his re­sponse was pas­sive.

“What­ever,” replied McIl­roy, who had bo­geyed four of his first five holes and was about to drop an­other shot at No. 6.

But then came the re­cov­ery.

McIl­roy got up and down from a front bunker for par at the short 7th hole, rolled in a 15-foot putt for par at the 8th hole hav­ing pushed his drive into the rough, and birdied four of his last eight holes to shoot a 1-over 71.

One of the big­gest roars of the day at Royal Birk­dale came from the giant grand­stands at No. 18 when McIl­roy made a 15-footer for birdie, pump­ing his fist when the ball fell into the cup.

“I still feel I’m in the golf tour­na­ment,” said McIl­roy, who was six shots off the lead. in the third round of the U.S. Open, made ea­gle on the 17th hole to hang around the early lead­ers.

Hideki Mat­suyama among those at 68.

Koepka didn’t seem to miss a beat from his four-shot vic­tory at Erin Hills, even if he barely touched a club. He stuck to a planned trip to Las Ve­gas af­ter win­ning his first ma­jor, and he spent two weeks out West. When he fi­nally got back to Florida, he played golf only one time, with man­ager Blake Smith at Ham­bric Sports, and lost to him (though he gave him 13 shots).

Koepka con­sid­ers him­self the con­sum­mate gamer, though. He was itch­ing to get back to was com­pe­ti­tion, and af­ter ar­riv­ing last week­end at Royal Birk­dale to learn the course, he proved to be a quick study.

“It feels back in the rou­tine now,” Koepka said.

Whether he and Spieth had the lead de­pended on the late starts, par­tic­u­larly Matt Kuchar, who made the turn at 5-un­der 29.

Kuchar was the U.S. Ama­teur cham­pion when he played Royal Birk­dale in 1998, still not even sure he was go­ing to turn pro. Now he’s on the short list of best play­ers to have never won a ma­jor. And the way the ma­jors have gone the last few years, maybe this is his time. Koepka was the sev­enth straight first­time win­ner of a ma­jor.


Brooks Koepka plays out of a bunker on the sev­enth hole dur­ing the first round of the Bri­tish Open Golf Cham­pi­onship Thurs­day at Royal Birk­dale in Southport, Eng­land.

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