Michael Hendry and Ryan Fox have had a tough start to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, but are still in the battle leading into the second round.
Hendry has started his debut major championship with a three-over-par 73 and Fox finished a further one shot back. These scores will have both Kiwis flirting with the cutline which will include the top 70 players plus ties.
After suspicions of a back injury, Hendry took to the first tee and provided two birdies, 11 pars and five bogeys. Fox could only manage the single birdie, coupled with five of his own bogeys.
This is Fox’s second Open Championship which he entered on the back of more than $1 million in earnings from three European Tour events in as many weeks, yet this momentum couldn’t get him firing overnight.
Playing alongside Fox, who is now ranked 95th in the world, was Matt Kuchar who showed him how it’s done, carding a clinical round of five-under par 65 to be in a tie for the lead at Royal Birkdale.
The weather is forecast to deteriorate in the second round, but Hendry and Fox could again get the best of it, with an earlier tee time that will suit Kiwi fans.
Hendry will tee off at 6:30pm and Fox 7:36pm New Zealand time.
Conditions were fierce in the early morning hours in Southport, England. Eventually, they improved, and so did the scores. Thirty-nine players were under par, but none lower than Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka, who each posted five-under 65s to tie for the lead.
The first of the American trio in the clubhouse was Spieth, who hit just five of 14 fairways during his bogey-free round. But the No.1 player on tour in “strokes gained: approach the green” was able to hit 15 of 18 greens, tied for the most in the field. After the round, Spieth spoke about how important it was to get off to a good start, and mentioned par could be a good score the rest of the way considering the incoming weather.
Two groups behind Spieth was Koepka, who had just 21 putts, the fewest of anyone in the field. The highlight of the round came after a bogey on the 16th, when he holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker on the par-5 17th to tie for the lead. Despite not playing since his breakthrough victory at the US Open, Koepka picked up right where he left off at Erin Hills a month ago.
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Kuchar, who missed the cut in his prior two appearances in an Open at Royal Birkdale, went out in five-under 29 on his opening nine. It had the makings of a special day, but the seven-time tour winner wasn’t able to add another red number on the home nine, finishing with a bogey-free 65. It’s his 13th appearance at the Open Championship, where he’s missed six cuts and registered just one top-10.
Jason 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.
England’s Paul Casey and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel are just one back after carding four-under 66s.
Six players are two shots back at three-under, including Englishman Ian Poulter, who shot one of the more impressive 67s of the day in the difficult morning conditions. Defending champion Henrik Stenson and Jason Day shot one-under 69s and are just four back.
Two of the top four players in the world, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, lurk at one-over after posting 71s.