Golf

Spieth, Koepka off to flying start in British Open

American duo fire impressive opening 65s to get off to flying start in British Open

Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka overcame a fiendish links course to fire impressive 65s and lead the field by two shots, midway through the British Open first round at Royal Birkdale yesterday.

Spieth, the American world No. 3 and twice Major champion, putted smoothly to pick up five birdies and did not drop a shot after fierce crosswinds buffeted the early starters.

"That was one of my top five rounds at a Major," the 23-year-old said.

"I'd give myself a nine (out of 10)."

With rain and strong wind expected in today's second round, Spieth added that it was important to get off to a good start in the tournament.

He told BBC Sport: "It is important to get in the red numbers.

"I have been in good form, my last event (The Travelers Championship) was a win, that gave me a lot of confidence and then I had three weeks off.

"Normally, I start slow coming back, so maybe I am a bit surprised to start The Open extremely strongly and not have to grind too much.

"At this course and The Open, I know the conditions can change this entire leaderboard.

"It's a really good start, I know what is coming tomorrow, know even par would be as good as or better than my score today if what is forecast gets here."

Fellow American Koepka, who won last month's US Open, hit three successive birdies from the 11th hole before making his only bogey at the 16th.

He chipped in from a pot bunker to eagle the par-five 17th and return to the top of the leaderboard.

England's Ian Poulter, runner-up in the 2008 Open on this course, managed four birdies and one bogey in a solid round of 67.

The Ryder Cup specialist, who has never won a Major, endured a frustrating 2016 due to injuries and had to come through qualifying to earn his place in the tournament.

"I've definitely had some low spots in the last 18 months and I was getting very down," the 41-year-old said.

"I'm proud of the way I've been able to get things back on the straight and get back to really focusing hard on what I need to do to get the level of golf back that I think I can play."

American Justin Thomas, sporting a black tie, matched Poulter's 67 to finish a shot ahead of world No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Sweden's Alex Noren and world No. 520 Stuart Manley of Wales.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden finished on 69, along with England's Matthew Fitzpatrick and Belgian Thomas Pieters.

STRUGGLE

Many players struggled in the conditions, however, and American Mark O'Meara endured a day to forget on his return to the course where he won the 1998 Open.

Handed the honour of hitting the first shot of the tournament, O'Meara sent his drive out of bounds before running up a quadruple-bogey eight and he ended up signing for an ugly round of 81.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy and American Phil Mickelson, runner-up to Stenson last year, were among the late starters with conditions expected to ease. - WIRE SERVICES

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