The Associated Press
SOUTHPORT, England–The wind off the Irish Sea pushed away the rain clouds and bathed Royal Birkdale in sunshine, as well as Stars and Stripes.
The British Open began yesterday with an All-American flavour.
Jordan Spieth, chomping away on gum as he watched one putt after another pour into the centre of the cup, worked some bunker magic late in the round to keep his card filled only with birdies and pars for a five-under 65.
He was tied for the first-round lead with U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar.
Koepka, with no competition and barely any practice since capturing his first major a month ago, ran off three-straight birdies and also holed a tough shot from a pot bunker for eagle on the par-five 17th hole.
Kuchar, who first endeared himself to these British fans as a 19-year-old amateur in 1998 at Royal Birkdale, 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 65–his best score ever in a major.
They were a stroke ahead of Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel on a day that started nasty but 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 winds 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,” he noted.
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy fall into that category.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player who hasn’t played the weekend at a major since the British Open last year, managed only one birdie yesterday on a decent day for scoring and shot one-over 71.
Rory McIlroy also shot 71 yesterday–and was relieved. Coming off three missed cuts in his last four events, he was five-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 yesterday–the first time that has happened in a major in five years–en route to shooting 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.
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 five-under with a birdie on the 15th, only to drop shots on the next two holes.
Hoffman finished with a 67 and was in a group that included Justin Thomas, Ian Poulter, and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Defending champ Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth, had a 69 yesterday.
Stenson also played with Spieth during the first two rounds of the 2015 Masters that the Texan won wire-to-wire, and knew what to expect.
“He was rolling it superbly that week, and I don’t think it was that far behind today,” Stenson noted.
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 and he ended up making a quadruple-bogey eight on his way to an 81.
Editor’s note: Matt Kucher held the second-round clubhouse lead at four-under 136 at last report.
Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, and Richard Bland also were tied at four-under but all four still were on the course (the second round was not completed as of press time).