Spieth, Koepka and Kuchar lead the way at Birkdale

Edinburgh-based Richie Ramsay smiles while coming off the 18th tee after an opening with a 68. Pic: Ian Rutherford
Edinburgh-based Richie Ramsay smiles while coming off the 18th tee after an opening with a 68. Pic: Ian Rutherford
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American trio Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar sat in a share of top spot at the end of a dramatic opening day in the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale.

It also saw 2014 winner Rory McIlroy produce a brilliant fightback and Spanish star Jon Rahm earn his second rules reprieve in three weeks.

Other highlights included Edinburgh-based Richie Ramsay getting off to a promising start along with fellow Scot Martin Laird.

On a day when the first few groups out endured the worst of the conditions before a band of rain soon moved away, Spieth wasted no time backing up his confident mood coming into this event.

The two-time major winner carded a flawless five-under-par 65, which was matched soon afterwards by Koepka in his first outing since winning the US Open then, later in the day, by Kuchar as well.

“I thought today’s round was extremely important given the forecast coming in,” said world No. 3 Spieth of wet and windy conditions being predicted for the second round at the Southport venue.

“I thought you really needed to be in the red today. You can certainly make up ground in a round like tomorrow, and we’ll see it happen. But being able to kind of play with shots or play a little more conservative is nice and very helpful.”

Koepka, who had just 21 putts in his opening effort, is ready for that wet weather, having taken similar conditions in his stride when winning the 2013 Scottish Challenge in Aviemore.

“I don’t mind bad weather. It doesn’t faze me,” he insisted. “I don’t really care that much. You just go play golf and shoot the lowest you can.”

Kuchar certainly went low on the front nine – he was out in 29 – as he bids to become the latest player to use the Scottish Open to become an Open winner.

Five of the last six Claret Jug winners played in that event the week before and Kuchar finished fourth behind Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello at Dundonald Links last weekend.

“We had a couple awfully challenging days there, and I remember being on 12th hole on Saturday with 129 yards to the pin and hitting a 6-iron and thinking to myself, ‘I am glad I’m over here doing this’ as it is not something I can’t ever remember doing in the States,” he said. “It was a perfect tune-up for coming into this week.”

Kuchar made his promising start in the company of Ramsay, who was pleased with his two-under-par 68. “It was a battle all day but I dug in there,” he said.

As did McIlroy after he’d been given a kick up the backside by caddie JP Fitzgerald, having seen his recent struggles continue as he slumped to five-over after six before recovering to salvage a 71.

“I was nervous going out. I was a little anxious, timid. Just not having as much belief in myself as I should have had,” said McIlroy, who sits six shots behind the leading trio.

“JP gave me a good talking on the second tee box, and sort of reminded me of who I was, basically. He said, ‘You’re Rory McIlroy, what are you doing?’ At that point I mumbled, ‘Whatever’. But it definitely helped. It kept me positive. So he did a great job.

“Thankfully, he’s not had to do it too often, but he’s had to do it a few times and he’s never afraid to do that,” added McIlroy. “And I feel today it helped a lot more than at other times because I needed something. I was trying to look within myself. But JP kept me positive out there, so that was very much appreciated.

“That got me back in a positive frame of mind. I was thinking, ‘jeez, here we go again’, but I just needed to stay patient and stay with it. I didn’t get angry out there at all. I didn’t let my head drop too much. So I kept a good, positive attitude. And it turned around for me, thankfully.”

Meanwhile, Rahm had a second rules reprieve for the second time in three weeks after a two-shot penalty imposed for him moving a thorny vine at the 17th was rescinded, leaving him just four off the lead on 69.

The penalty had been imposed due to it not having been a loose impediment, as Rahm thought, but that was then overturned after the 22-year-old finished his round.

He also escaped punishment in the Irish Open at Portstewart a fortnight ago over a ball-marking incident.

Having given a downbeat assessment of his game after a Scottish Open warm up, defending champion Henrik Stenson seems to have found something since then.

The Swede certainly had no complaints about opening with a 69 in the same group as Spieth.

“Feeling greedy, I think that two or three-under would have been a pretty good reflection of how I played, but I will definitely take that start as it’s a good day’s work for me. It’s a major championship and under par is never a bad score,” said Stenson.

Paul Lawrie opened with a 70, two less than David Drysdale, while Scottish amateur Connor Syme finished birdie-birdie for a 73. Russell Knox had to settle for a 74 while Sandy Lyle could only manage a 77.