Sunday, September 23, 2018

Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar tied for British Open lead

SOUTHPORT, England — The wind off the Irish Sea pushed away the rain clouds and bathed Royal Birkdale in sunshine, Stars and Stripes.

The British Open began Thursday with an All-American flavor.

Jordan Spieth, chomping away on gum as he watched one putt after another pour into the center of the cup, worked some bunker magic late in the round to keep his card filled only with birdies and pars for 5-under 65.

U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, with no competition and barely any practice since capturing his first major a month ago, ran off three straight birdies and holed a tough shot from a pot bunker for eagle on the par-5 17th hole for 5-under 65.

Joining them was Matt Kuchar, who first endeared himself to British fans as a 19-year-old amateur in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. Kuchar, who has never won a major at age 39, tied the course record with 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 in a major.

The three had a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel on a day that started nasty and ended with 39 players breaking par. The biggest question after a long day on the links was what was in store for today, when high wind and occasional showers were in the forecast.

"I thought (Thursday'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."

Not in that category were Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy.

Johnson, the world No. 1 player who hasn't played the weekend at a major since the British Open last year, had only one birdie on a decent day for scoring and shot 71. McIlroy also shot 71 and was relieved. Coming off three missed cuts in his past four events, he was 5 over through six holes when his caddie gave him a pep talk.

"You're Rory McIlroy," caddie J.P. Fitzgerald told his player. "What are you doing?"

McIlroy closed with three birdies over the last four holes to stay in the game.

Phil Mickelson failed to make a birdie, the first time that has happened for him in a major in five years, and shot 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.

"I watched some of the golf (Thursday) morning on TV. It looked awfully challenging," he said. "It looked like anything under par was going to be a good score. Seemed like the later your tee time, the better draw you got. … For me, to start my British Open with a 29 on the front nine is a great way to start."

Koepka played once, with his manager, since winning the U.S. Open in mid June.

"It's funny, I'll play with my dad and shoot 75 every time or higher," the former Florida State golfer and Wellington native said. "It's hard to get into it. You just need a little bit of competitiveness and a little bit of something to get me going.

"I mean, look at all the majors I've played. The record has been pretty good. Any time you put something on the line like that, I get up for it."

Defending champion Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth, had 71. Stenson also played with Spieth 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 (Thursday)," Stenson said.

PGA: Zac Blair, Martin Flores and Cameron Tringale shared the Barbasol Championship lead at 6-under 65 when first-round play was suspended because of darkness in Opelika, Ala. Flores and Tringale played in the morning at Grand National's Lake Course, and Blair finished his afternoon round in humid conditions after a rain delay of nearly two hours. The three leaders are winless on tour. Robert Allenby, Chad Campbell, Rory Sabbatini and Tag Ridings shot 66, and Richy Werenski also was `under with two holes left.

LPGA: Gerina Piller shot 8-under 63 in the Marathon Classic to take a one-stroke lead over U.S. Women's Open champion Sung Hyun Park and Peiyun Chien at Sylvania, Ohio. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome and Lexi Thompson were in a group of eight at 4 under.

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