The Latest: Kuchar posts career-best in major to share lead
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) The Latest on the British Open (all times local):
Matt Kuchar matched the best front-nine score ever at Royal Birkdale. And even following that with nothing but pars on the back nine, the American still shot his best score in a major.
Kuchar saved par from behind the 18th green and shot 5-under 65 to share the lead with Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka in the opening round of the British Open.
With three straight birdies and a 29, he tied the record that Ian Baker-Finch set in 1991 when he won the claret jug. Kuchar missed good birdie opportunities on the par-5 15th and 17th holes. Even so, it beats by one shot his previous best - a 66 in the second round at Oak Hill in the 2013 PGA Championship.
Charley Hoffman's name on the leaderboard at a major should no longer be a surprise this year.
Hoffman led after the first round of the Masters when he opened with a 65. He was only three shots behind going into the final round of the U.S. Open until he faded on the back nine. Here is again, this time at Royal Birkdale.
Hoffman wasted no time Thursday. From the right rough on the tough opening hole, his shot bounced onto the green and rolled into the cup for an eagle . Hoffman became the fourth player to reach 5 under when he made birdie on the 15th, only to drop a shot on the next hole.
This is Hoffman's seventh British Open. He has broken par just twice.
On a day when players made plenty of birdies, no one made more on the front side than Matt Kuchar.
Kuchar matched a mark set by Ian Baker-Finch 26 years ago when he shot a 29 on the front nine Thursday at Royal Birkdale.
Kuchar can only hope he ends up holding the claret jug, as Baker-Finch did when he shot his 29 on the final day of the British Open in 1991.
Kuchar made five birdies against five pars on the par-34 front nine, moving into a tie for the lead at 5 under with Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka. After making birdie on No. 9, he made five straight pars on the back nine and remained tied.
Kuchar's 29 was 10 shots better than the 39 shot by Rory McIlroy on the front nine. McIlroy was playing several groups behind Kuchar in the afternoon pairings.
Rory McIlroy's bad year seems about to get even worse.
The four-time major winner stumbled badly to begin his opening round Thursday, bogeying five of his first six holes at Royal Birkdale on a day when there were good scores to be had.
McIlroy had talked before the Open about putting together a good round to turn his winless year around. Instead, he went the other way with bad chip that led to a bogey on the first hole and then made four more bogeys over his next five holes.
McIlroy's putter continued to be balky, but his driver wasn't that good, either. He also hit it into bunkers on both of the opening par-3s.
McIlroy appeared poised to make yet another bogey on the eighth hole, but holed a 15-footer to save par. He was 5 over through eight.
McIlroy won the Open in 2014.
The homecoming for the local kid didn't exactly go as planned.
Tommy Fleetwood had high hopes for the British Open being played in his hometown of Southport, even if he didn't have much experience on Royal Birkdale. Fleetwood said this week that he used to sneak on the course occasionally while growing up but didn't know it well.
That showed Thursday in the opening round when he struggled to a 6-over 76 that left Fleetwood 11 shots off the lead held by Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka.
Fleetwood didn't make a birdie all day, and made 6 on two holes - 9 and 17 - that other players were having no difficulties with. The first was for a double bogey, and the second for bogey.
The shaggy-haired Fleetwood, ranked No. 14 in the world and the top player on the European Tour, got some shouts of encouragement from fans as he made his way around the course.
He'll need more than that if he is to make the cut and play on the weekend.
Brooks Koepka hasn't missed a beat since winning the U.S. Open last month.
On Thursday, he barely missed a shot as he used an eagle on the 17th hole to shoot 5-under-65 and move into a tie for the lead with Jordan Spieth in the British Open.
Both Americans have major championship pedigree, with Spieth having won a Masters and a U.S. Open. Both are looking for their first British Open title.
Spieth posted the first 65, then Koepka followed a short time later, taking advantage of the late eagle and then getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker on 18.
It is Koepka's first tournament since he won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills to capture his first major championship.
The two were two shots ahead of Ian Poulter and Justin Thomas.
Jordan Spieth is off to a smashing start in the British Open.
The American star played near flawless golf Thursday, shooting a 5-under-65 to take the clubhouse lead at Royal Birkdale. Displaying a fantastic short game whenever he seemed ready to get in trouble, Spieth didn't make a bogey in the first round of the Open.
Spieth, who already owns a Masters and U.S. Open title, made three birdies on the front and two more on the back. He missed an 8-footer for birdie on the final hole.
Spieth was two clear of Ian Poulter, who finished with a 67.
U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka put himself in contention in the first round, briefly tying Spieth for the lead at 4 under after making three straight birdies beginning at No. 11. Koepka was at 3 under with two holes to play.
Justin Thomas added a touch of sartorial splendor to the British Open, sporting a throwback tie and cardigan as he made his way around Royal Birkdale.
The American looked somewhat like a golfer of old in the outfit, which was assembled by his clothing sponsor, Polo Golf/Ralph Lauren.
''A woven knit skinny tie with a cardigan,'' Thomas said earlier on Twitter . ''Won't be fully buttoned up, no problems swinging at all. Can't wait to rock it.''
The outfit got some notice from Open golf fans, who commented about it as Thomas walked by. It also drew the attention of a BBC announcer, who wondered why Thomas had his tie loosened instead of properly tied.
''It almost looks like he has just come back from the pub,'' he said.
Jordan Spieth is in the early mix at Royal Birkdale as he tries to add a British Open title to his collection of major championships.
Ian Poulter also had quite the day, making only one bogey on his way to a 3-under 67 that gave him the clubhouse lead among early finishers.
Spieth, who narrowly missed getting in a playoff two years ago at St. Andrews, set the tone for his day when he slashed an iron out of the rough on the second hole to within 10 feet for his first birdie. He added two more to finish off the front nine and was at 3 under on the back nine.
Spieth, who did not make a bogey through 12 holes, has won both the Masters and the U.S. Open but has yet to hoist a claret jug. Neither has Poulter, who is winless in major championships and looking to rebound from a long dry spell in his pro career.
The Englishman played steady before making birdie on the par-5 17th hole from the bunker, then getting up-and-down from another bunker on the 18th hole to post the lowest score so far at the Open.
One of the first players out on the course has the early clubhouse lead in the British Open.
Stuart Manley isn't exactly a household name, but the journeyman from Wales used an eagle-birdie finish to shoot a 2-under-68 to climb atop the leaderboard at Royal Birkdale.
Manley has been a pro since 2003, bouncing between minor tours and the European Tour. He has missed the cut in his last six tournaments, and is currently ranked No. 520 in the world.
England's Ian Poulter is also at 2 under on the back nine, while another half dozen players were at 1 under on a day where birdies were at a premium.
Half the field is now out on the course at the British Open, where the umbrellas have been put away - at least for now.
The early starters encountered some wet conditions, but showers gave way to clouds and some sunshine on a breezy day at Royal Birkdale.
A pair of Englishmen had the early lead in their home tournament. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter were both at 2 under on a day when birdies were hard to come by on one of the toughest courses in the Open rotation.
Birkdale is where Rose made his debut in the Open as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998. Though he has won a U.S. Open, Rose has never won one of his own country's national championships.
Several players were at 1 under, including Americans Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
In the space of just one hole, Jordan Spieth showed the trouble he may face in the British Open and his unique way of turning it into his advantage.
Spieth hooked his tee shot badly on the second hole, with his ball ending up in the deep wispy rough left of the fairway. He took a mighty swing at the ball, and then watched as it barely cleared a bunker on the right and rolled to about 10 feet away.
Spieth, who has been known to hit some tee shots sideways, then rolled in the putt for a birdie that got him under par for the first time in the championship.
The former Masters and U.S. Open champion was in form coming into the tournament, after winning the Travelers Championship in his last outing. He showed his escape abilities there, too, holding a shot from the sand in a playoff to win his 10th title as a professional.
Royal Birkdale has traditionally been one of the toughest courses in the British Open rotation.
And it is living up to its reputation early in the first round of the 146th version of the major championship.
With the first wave of players making the turn, there were few red numbers on the board. Only two players were under par, led by Ian Poulter at 2 under through five holes.
The good news is the weather - rainy and breezy in the morning - is expected to get better as the day goes on. That should favor players with later tee times on the course on the coast of northwest England.
Alex Noren has birdied the first hole at Royal Birkdale in the British Open.
Yes, that's big news.
Already one of the toughest opening holes on Open courses, a strong breeze off the Irish Sea and a light rain made the 448-yard hole even more of a beast Thursday morning. Mark O'Meara had to hit two tee shots because the first one went into the gorse. He made an 8. Bryson DeChambeau also hit into the gorse. He made a 7.
It was a feat just to hit the green in regulation, so consolation prizes to Paul Broadhurst, Ian Poulter and Russell Knox.
As the rain and wind eased, Noren hit his approach into 5 feet and hole the putt for a 3. That's something 26 players before him couldn't do.
Mark O'Meara was supposed to hit the first tee shot to start the 146th British Open. He wound up hitting two of them.
The British Open began Thursday morning with rain, wind and big numbers. O'Meara's opening drive on the notoriously tough first hole at Royal Birkdale rode the wind into the gorse bushes on the right. He hit another tee shot, this one into a bunker on the left.
O'Meara, who won at Royal Birkdale in 1998 and is playing his final British Open, made quadruple-bogey 8. Ryan Moore took a double bogey and Chris Wood had to get up-and-down from 40 yards for a par.
It was an ominous start at a links course not known for low scoring.