Date: July 21, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Open wrap: Spieth soars, Aussies in mix


A trio of Americans set the pace but Australians including Jason Day and Adam Scott have remained in the running after the first round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar all managed five-under par 65s in tricky conditions on day one to take the lead.

But former world No. 1 Day, raising eyebrows with a Rickie Fowleresque combination of hi-top shoes and track pants, was solid with a 69, along with Scott, Aaron Baddeley, Andrew Dodt and Marc Leishman.

That group is just four shots from the lead.

The early groups had the worst of the conditions at Birkdale with heavy, sideways rains and gusty winds. Poor Mark O’Meara, the 1998 champion, flared his first tee-ball out of bounds and took an eight at the very first hole; the opening group on the course took 18 shots to complete the first hole.

O’Meara was one of that trio, and he was humbled, eventually carding an 81 in what is expected to be his final Open. “My name is on my golf bag, I've won the Open, I’ve won the Masters, I'm in the Hall of Fame and then you hit one straight right off the first tee out of bounds,’’ he said. “It would be like standing on the first tee on the Ballybunion and hitting the graveyard.”

But the conditions improved and scoring was possible, with Spieth, the two-time major champion who is seeking his first claret jug, making the early running along with England’s Ian Poulter.

Spieth hit some wides off the tee – he only hit five fairways – but his iron play was superb and he had just 29 putts and no bogeys.  “Really good start, everything was strong,’’ said the American. “I give it a nine across the board for everything, tee balls, ball-striking, short-game and putting. I think I missed two greens, essentially missed two greens in 15 miles per hour wind. This course has a lot of crosswinds, that speaks a lot to the ball-striking.’’

Later he was joined at the top by Koepka, the US Open champion who has not played a tournament since his triumph at Erin Hills almost a month ago, and eventually by Kucher, who made five birdies on the front nine before parachuting in.

Koepka’s preparation is extraordinary but he was in control of his golf ball. “After taking four weeks off it was kind of nice to get back inside the ropes and get those competitive juices flowing,’’ he said.

England’s Paul Casey and South African Charl Schwartzel (66) are the closest-challengers to the trio of Americans.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson opened with a one-over par 71.

The Australians had mixed results. A cluster of them – Cameron Smith (74), Adam Bland (75), Ash Hall (75) and Ryan McCarthy (76) are under pressure to make the cut. But Matthew Griffin (70) made an excellent Open debut and Scott Hend (71) also is in the mix.

Day’s return to some form was the most encouraging, his high point being a brilliant short iron shot at the par-four eighth hole that almost found the cup. The Queenslander was good around the greens; having complained about his putting this year, he had just 28 shots with the short stick in his opening 69.

But much of the talk, inevitably, was about his new skate-park look. “Got to wear the right pants and right shoe combo with it,’’ he said. “If you wear golf shoes with these pants, they don't look that great. So they look all right with these shoes. I'm happy with them. They look good on TV. I just watched it on replay.’’

Day said his group was lucky with the draw, but the weather is expected to worsen tomorrow. “I think that currently we are on the better side of the draw, compared to this morning,’’ said Day. “And that's the luck of the draw sometimes. We've just got to wake up tomorrow and see how it comes. You've just got to wake up every single day and try to battle not only the golf course but the elements and try to beat the course.’’

Scott also made some putts, hit the ball nicely and was encouraged.  “In the 60s, first round of a major is a good start. It could have been a couple better, sure, but you can't really look at it like that,’’ he said. “I think it's a good, solid start. Probably going to be tough tomorrow morning, so I'm going to have my work cut out for me. And if I can shoot a good score in the morning, hopefully I'm in good shape going into the weekend.’’

Most of the 11 Australians have early tee times tomorrow but strong winds and rain are forecast. It's time to batten down the hatches, so to speak.


65 Spieth, Kucher, Koepka

66 Schwartzel, Casey

67 Poulter, J Thomas, R Bland, Connelly, Hoffman, Cabrero-Bello