The Open Championship 2017

Spieth & Koepka in the groove

American Jordan Spieth putting on the fourth green during the first round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale. The two-time Major champion needed just 29 putts during his bogey-free round of 65.
American Jordan Spieth putting on the fourth green during the first round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale. The two-time Major champion needed just 29 putts during his bogey-free round of 65. PHOTO: REUTERS

65s give them lead with half the field done, veteran Poulter shows form of old with 67

LONDON • World No. 3 Jordan Spieth shot a flawless five-under 65 to take a share of the clubhouse lead midway through the British Open first round yesterday.

The American, who won the Masters and the US Open in 2015 and is still only 23, had five birdies, including two in a row just before the turn, and no bogeys to position himself at the top of the leaderboard.

"I couldn't have done much better today. I missed two greens," said the Texan.

He was not alone, though, with Brooks Koepka also shooting 65. The US Open champion's only blip came with a bogey at the par-four 16th but he promptly recovered with an eagle at the par-five 17th.

That duo were two shots ahead of England's Ian Poulter, who had a 67 on his return to the venue where he came runner-up in 2008, and the American Justin Thomas.

Lurking on 68 were Japan's world No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama, Sweden's Alex Noren, the world No. 9, and Welshman Stuart Manley, the 38-year-old making his debut at a Major championship.

On a good morning for Europeans, England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, Belgium's Thomas Pieters and defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden all fired rounds of 69.

  • LEADERBOARD

  • 1ST ROUND 
    (selected early scores, USA unless stated) 
    65 Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka

    67 Richard Bland (Eng), Justin Thomas, Ian Poulter (Eng)

    68 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)
    69 Henrik Stenson (Swe)
    70 Kim Si Woo (Kor)
    ​71 Webb Simpson

Poulter ignited the home challenge with a near faultless 67, stirring memories of his near-miss when the tournament was last staged at Royal Birkdale nine years ago. The 41-year-old played superbly on the greens, putting from 20 feet on the second hole and taking just 22 putts in total in his attempt to become the first Englishman to win the event since Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992.

He went close in 2008 when he finished runner-up to Ireland's Padraig Harrington, but he looked back to his best after overcoming form and fitness problems to take his place at Birkdale via a qualifying tournament earlier this month.

"I was more committed with the putter in hand today. I hit a lot of good putts, and hit a lot of good shots, and it adds up to a good score," said Poulter, who missed last year's tournament with a foot injury and is competing in his first Major since last year's Masters.

"To be out with injury last year and miss an Open was tough," he added. "And it's quite nice to go through qualifying, go out there, post a red number today, when the last time I played here in 2008 was a pretty good 69 on a tough day as well."

He teed off just as the early rain was easing. He and playing partners - Scotland's Russell Knox and Sweden's Alex Noren - became the first group to hit the green at the par-four first hole in the regulation two shots.

Poulter, who was in contention going into the final day at last week's Scottish Open, said his opening round at Birkdale was reward for hard work that has seen him battle his way back to 78th in the world.

"I'm proud of the way I've been able to refocus, get things back on the straight and narrow," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Spieth & Koepka in the groove'. Print Edition | Subscribe