The Open: Strong start from Matt Fitzpatrick as Danny Willett holds up
Matt Fitzpatrick toiled in the early morning conditions at Royal Birkdale but recovered well to make a strong start to his challenge at The Open.
The Sheffield golfer made two bogeys inside the first six holes as damp and blustery conditions on Merseyside took their toll.
But he soon got a handle on the weather and birdied eight and ten to get back to level par.
Another birdie followed on 14 and then on 17 after a bogey five on 16 before he saved par on the last with an 18-foot putt.
It left him as one of only a few morning players below par, sitting on -1
“It’s always nice to finish in red numbers,” he said. “Especially on days like this.
“The wind strength on some holes was making you change two or three clubs in your selection.”
Danny Willett was also required to carry about a bit of recovery work as he played through the pain barrier to card a one over par 71.
In contrast to his fellow Sheffielder, Willett started well and a birdie on two gave him the early lead as he attempts to manage his on-going back injury.
But he ended the front nine with three consecutive bogeys to turn around on +2.
The 29-year-old steadied the ship with seven straight pars before a birdie on 17 saw him conclude the round in positive fashion.
Killamarsh qualifier Joe Dean endured an event-packed conclusion to his round and finished two over par.
After finishing the front nine on +1, Dean birdied two out of three holes to stand in a great position.
But another birdie was sandwiched between double bogey sixes on 16 and 18 to leave him well down the field.
Conditions grew more favourable as the day wore on with plenty of players carding below par rounds.
American duo Jordan Speith and Brooks Koepka share the clubhouse lead on -5 where they are joined by compatriot Matt Kuchar who has made an excellent start to his round.
Nine years after finishing second in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, Ian Poulter made the ideal start in his bid to go one better at the same venue.
Poulter, who had to come through final qualifying to avoid missing a sixth major in succession, carded a three-under-par 67 in testing conditions to overtake Welshman Stuart Manley as the early clubhouse leader.
“It was amazing,” Poulter said of his reception on the 18th as he completed his lowest ever opening round in a major at the 54th attempt. “Birkdale nine years ago felt pretty good on Sunday afternoon and it felt just as good today.
“I played really well. I would have taken that before going out. It was raining first thing, the wind was a constant 15 miles per hour and I hit all the shots I wanted to.
“I played careful on a few holes for obvious reasons and committed to a lot of shots. A couple of putts slipped by the edge but it adds up to a decent score so I’m pretty happy.”
Af ter playing just 13 tournaments last year due to a foot injury, Poulter had 10 events this season to earn enough FedEx Cup points or money to retain a full PGA Tour card.
He came up short in both categories after missing the cut in the Valero Texas Open in April, but American Brian Gay, who was also playing on a medical exemption after back problems, then alerted officials to a discrepancy in the points structure used for players competing in that category.
Poulter made the most of his reprieve by finishing second in the Players Championship at Sawgrass in his next start, but was unable to convert a share of the 54-hole lead in last week’s Scottish Open after a closing 74.
Heavy rain and wind had made life a misery for the early starters, with former champion Mark O’Meara hitting the opening tee shot at 6:35am straight out of bounds.
O’Meara went on to card a quadruple-bogey eight on his way to an 11-over-par 81, but w as far from alone in finding the 448-yard par four a daunting prospect.
One player in each of the first three groups also went out of bounds and the first eight groups were a combined 23 over par for the opening hole before Sweden’s Alex Noren recorded the first birdie.
Playing alongside Poulter, Noren went on to card a 68 which matched the superb effort of Open debutant Manley, who holed a bunker shot for an eagle on the 17th and birdied the last from long range.
“It was very nerve-wracking on the first tee,” said the 38-year-old. “I was shaking so I was pretty pleased to make contact.
“But after t hat I kind of settled my round a little bit, played quite nicely and obviously finished it off in a nice fashion.”