Resurgent Poulter off to flier in British Open

SOUTHPORT, United Kingdom: Royal Birkdale again brought the best out in Ian Poulter as the Englishman seized the early clubhouse lead in the first round of the British Open on Thursday.
After going out in one of the first groups at 8:03 am (0703 GMT), Poulter shot a three-under-par round of 67 that was built around an impressive front nine.
The 41-year-old went out in just 32, picking up three birdies to go with a bogey at the short 7th, before a further birdie at the long 17th and a par at the last after he found a greenside bunker with his approach.
It was a fine return to the big stage for Poulter, who had not appeared at a Major since the Masters last year and had to settle for a role as a television commentator at the Open 12 months ago while sidelined through injury.
He came through qualifying at his home course Woburn to make it to Birkdale, where he finished runner-up to Padraig Harrington in 2008 in what remains his best performance at a Major.
“What was helpful was the wind today was like it was on Sunday last time it was played in 2008,” Poulter said.
“Commentating last year on Thursday and Friday was no fun. To be out with injury last year and miss an Open was tough.
“And obviously it’s quite nice to go through qualifying, to go out there, post a red number today, when the last time I played here in 2008 was a pretty good 69 on a tough day, as well.”
There were not too many other scores in the red among those starting early, with wet and chilly conditions greeting daybreak on the north-west coast of England.
However, Poulter’s playing partner Alex Noren, the Swedish world number nine, shot a two-under 68 after starting off with a birdie at the tough opening par-four 1st hole.
There was also a 68 for unsung Welshman Stuart Manley, once an aspiring footballer and now making his Major championship debut aged 38 after qualifying courtesy of a second-place finish at the Johannesburg Open at the beginning of the year.
After dropping a shot at the first, he recovered and concluded his day by holing from a greenside bunker for an eagle at the par-five 17th and then grabbing a birdie at the last.
World number three Jordan Spieth, reigning US Open champion Brooks Koepka and last year’s winner at Troon, Henrik Stenson, were among the others out early looking to put themselves in contention.
World number one Dustin Johnson and 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy will attract the biggest crowds later. They were due to tee off at 2:48 pm alongside former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Those starting later will be eager to avoid the fate that befell Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Open winner at Birkdale, on the opening hole.
Now 60, he was handed the honour of hitting the very first tee shot at 6:35 am but his drive went out of bounds to the right.
After needing three off the tee, he ended up with an ugly quadruple-bogey eight and he concluded the day with an 81, 11 over par.
“I realise kind of where I’m at in my life. But, you know, you still play for your pride. When I play like that, I don’t care who plays like that, they’re disappointed,” O’Meara said. — AFP