Sizzling 65s not in Friday forecast
SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND» The wind off the Irish Sea pushed away the rain clouds and bathed Royal Birkdale in sunshine, Stars and Stripes.
The 146th British Open began Thursday with an all-American flavor.
Jordan Spieth, a 23-year-old Texan chomping on gum as he watched one putt after another pour into the center of the cup, worked some bunker magic of his own late in the round to keep his card filled only with birdies and pars for a 5-under-par 65.
U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, with no competition and barely any practice since capturing his first major a month ago, ran off three consecutive birdies and holed a tough shot from a pot bunker for an eagle on the par-5 17th hole for a 65.
Joining them was Matt Kuchar, who first endeared himself to these British fans as a 19-year-old amateur in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. Kuchar tied the course record with a 29 on the front nine, only to fall into a routine of pars the rest of the way. He still shot a 65, his best score ever in a major.
They had a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel on a day that started nasty and ended with 39 players breaking par. The biggest question after a long day on the links was what was in store for Friday, when high wind and occasional showers were in the forecast.
“I thought today’s round was extremely important, as they all are,” Spieth said, atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time since last year’s Masters. “But given the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red today. You can certainly make up ground in a round tomorrow, and we’ll see it happen. But being able to kind of play with shots, or play a little more conservative because you don’t try to do too much on a day like tomorrow, that’s nice and very helpful.”
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy fall into that category.
Johnson, the No. 1 player who hasn’t played the weekend at a major since the British Open last year, managed only one birdie on a decent day for scoring and shot a 71. McIlroy also shot a 71 and was relieved. Coming off three missed cuts in his last four events, he was 5-over through six holes when his caddie gave him a pep talk. McIlroy closed with three birdies over the last four holes to stay in the game.
Phil Mickelson failed to make a birdie, the first time that has happened to him in a major in five years, and shot a 73.
Kuchar was the only one at 65 who played in the afternoon. The wind remained strong, though the course was manageable for everyone who stayed out of bunkers and deep grass and who holed putts.
“I watched some of the golf this morning on TV. It looked awfully challenging,” Kuchar said. “It looked like anything under par was going to be a good score. Seemed like the later your tee time, the better draw you got . ... For me, to start my British Open with a 29 on the front nine is a great way to start.”
Charley Hoffman had the best start of all, holing out from the rough on the daunting opening hole for an eagle. He was poised to join the leaders when he reached 5-under with a birdie on the 15th, only to drop shots on the next two holes. Hoffman shot a 69 and was in a group that included Ian Poulter and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth, opened with a 71.
Jordan Spieth, hitting a tee shot in the first round of the 146th British Open, didn’t post a bogey Thursday and fired a 5-under-par 65. He called his score “extremely important.”