Conditions at Royal Birkdale for the opening round of the Open Championship (that’s a fun sentence) were fairly mild, especially for those players not forced to go out right as play began. (Poor Mark O’Meara hit the first shot of the tournament, and the 1998 Open Champion stepped up in the middle of driving rain and cold wind, only to spray his tee ball off the property, en route to a quadruple bogey. It wasn’t fun to watch, and he finished with an 81 in what will almost certainly be his final appearance.)
The later wave saw sun and mild temperatures, though, and some players were able to take full advantage, including the trio of Americans currently sharing the lead, who all fired matching 5-under 65s. It’s a group of names that should be familiar to just about any casual fan: Brooks Koepka, who won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in his last start; Jordan Spieth, whose skills seemed likely to meet Royal Birkdale’s particular set of demands, and Matt Kuchar, a veteran of many Thursday leaderboards who seems to disappear when winning time arrives. (Though in a fire, he’d be a great guy to follow; he has a preternatural ability to find the backdoor.)
Koepka and Spieth, specifically, seem primed to contend this week, and there’s a group of players right behind that could also find themselves in the mix on Sunday. Paul Casey (my pick to win) is a shot back after opening with a 66, and Charl Schwartzel is right there as well. Justin Thomas certainly has no issues contending in majors, although finishing strong on Sunday is another thing, but he’s in great position at -3. There are a fairly shocking number of players in red figures, especially considering how difficult the course played in 2008:
Players under par at Birkdale after the first round.
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 20, 2017
That once again speaks to the conditions, which look likely to be worse on Friday, although anecdotally the British have always seemed a bit fatalist with their weather forecasts. We see calls for major winds and rain seemingly every Open, and more often than not the afternoon mellows out into very playable conditions. Still, if they have it right this time, the sustained winds could depress the scores further, meaning those who took advantage of Thursday’s conditions might be in even better shape:
One of the early highlights was Charley Hoffman’s approach on the first, which went just about as well as it could have possibly gone:
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2017
Round 2 resumes tonight at 1:30 AM Eastern on the Golf Channel.