The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Sport - JULY 21, 2017

ROYAL Birk­dale again brought the best out in Ian Poul­ter as the English­man seized the early club­house lead in the first round of the Bri­tish Open yes­ter­day.

Af­ter go­ing out in one of the first groups at 8:03am, Poul­ter shot a three­un­der-par round of 67 that was built around an im­pres­sive front nine.

The 41-year-old went out in just 32, pick­ing up three birdies to go with a bo­gey at the short 7th, be­fore a fur­ther birdie at the long 17th and a par at the last af­ter he found a green­side bunker with his ap­proach.

It was a fine re­turn to the big stage for Poul­ter, who had not ap­peared at a ma­jor since the Masters last year and had to set­tle for a role as a tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor at the Open 12 months ago while side­lined through in­jury.

He came through qual­i­fy­ing at his home course Woburn to make it to Birk­dale, where he fin­ished run­ner-up to Padraig Har­ring­ton in 2008 in what re­mains his best per­for­mance at a ma­jor.

“What was help­ful was the wind to­day was like it was on Sun­day last time it was played in 2008,” Poul­ter said.

“Com­men­tat­ing last year on Thurs­day and Fri­day was no fun. To be out with in­jury last year and miss an Open was tough.”

There were not too many other scores in the red among those start­ing early, with wet and chilly con­di­tions greet­ing day­break on the north-west coast of Eng­land.

How­ever, Poul­ter’s play­ing part­ner Alex Noren, the Swedish world num­ber nine, shot a two-un­der 68 af­ter start­ing off with a birdie at the tough open­ing par-four 1st hole.

There was also a 68 for un­sung Welsh­man Stu­art Man­ley, once an as­pir­ing foot­baller and now mak­ing his ma­jor cham­pi­onship de­but aged 38 af­ter qual­i­fy­ing cour­tesy of a sec­ond­place fin­ish at the Jo­han­nes­burg Open at the be­gin­ning of the year.

Af­ter drop­ping a shot at the first, he re­cov­ered and con­cluded his day by hol­ing from a green­side bunker for an ea­gle at the par-five 17th and then grab­bing a birdie at the last.

World num­ber three Jor­dan Spi­eth, reign­ing US Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka and last year’s win­ner at Troon, Hen­rik Sten­son, were among the oth­ers out early look­ing to put them­selves in con­tention.

World num­ber one Dustin John­son and 2014 Open cham­pion Rory Mcil­roy will at­tract the big­gest crowds later. They were due to tee off at 2:48pm along­side former Masters cham­pion Charl Schwartzel.

Those start­ing later will be ea­ger to avoid the fate that be­fell Mark O’meara, the 1998 Open win­ner at Birk­dale, on the open­ing hole.

Now 60, he was handed the hon­our of hit­ting the very first tee shot at 6:35am but his drive went out of bounds to the right.

Af­ter need­ing three off the tee, he ended up with an ugly quadru­ple-bo­gey eight and he con­cluded the day with an 81, 11 over par.

“I re­alise kind of where I’m at in my life. But, you know, you still play for your pride. When I play like that, I don’t care who plays like that, they’re dis­ap­pointed,” O’meara said. – AFP

Ian Poul­ter in­di­cates a way­ward shot from the 10th tee on the first day of the Open Golf Cham­pi­onship at Royal Birk­dale yes­ter­day. Photo: AFP

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