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Danny Willett and Ian Poulter make early running on first morning of the Open

Danny Willett and Ian Poulter make early running on first morning of the Open

Thursday 20 July 2017

Danny Willett and Ian Poulter make early running on first morning of the Open

Sir Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win the Open in 1992.

English duo Danny Willett and Ian Poulter made the early running on the first day of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Not since Sir Nick Faldo won his third and final Claret Jug at Muirfield in 1992 has the event had a home winner, but 2016 Masters champion Willett and his compatriot, who came through a qualifier to book his spot at Southport, were tied at one under par with Sweden’s Alex Noren.

Willett, who has struggled with a back injury recently and failed to play the second round in two of his last three events, birdied the second to make his early move with Poulter, three groups behind, holing from 30 feet at the same hole to join him.

Along with Noren they were the only three players under par of the 30 out on the course after two hours’ play.

Former champion Mark O’Meara had a nightmare start with a quadruple-bogey eight as he got the Open under way in rainy and breezy conditions.

The 60-year-old, who won the second major of his career when the Open was staged at Birkdale in 1998, teed off at 6:35am alongside fellow American Ryan Moore and England’s Chris Wood.

Players had enjoyed dry and sunny conditions on the Southport links until a thunderstorm blew in late Wednesday afternoon and forced the abandonment of practice.

Light rain greeted the players on the first tee on Thursday morning and O’Meara sliced his drive over the fence and out of bounds to the right of the fairway and then pulled his second attempt off the tee into a left-side bunker which eventually added up to an eight.

Wood, who finished fifth at Birkdale in 2008 and won the silver medal as leading amateur, made par with Moore taking six.

Birkdale lays claim to the toughest opening hole on the rota and that was backed up by the performance of the early starters, with the first 30 players playing the 448-yarder in 25 over par.

But with the rain giving way, wind easing and patches of blue sky beginning to emerge, conditions started to ease and just under 90 minutes after play began the first players managed to get under par.

With the weather expected to improve as the day progressed it could play into the hands of an out-of-form Rory McIlroy, an Open champion at nearby Hoylake three years ago, who tees off at 2.48pm.

Swede Henrik Stenson narrowly missed being one of the few to make birdie at the first as he got his defence of the Claret Jug off to a steady start, but his Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose, who finished fourth at Birkdale as an amateur in 1998, did make a three to make it a trio of Englishmen at the top.

They were joined by double major winner Jordan Spieth after he birded the second, although Poulter immediately rolled in an 18-foot birdie to regain the outright lead after reaching the turn in 32 at two under.

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