The Open Championship
Scots duo keep tabs on US leaders
Scotland’s Martin Laird and Richie Ramsay will be hoping to close the gap at the top of Open leaderboard when the second round tees off at Royal Birkdale.
The pair both carded two-under-par 68s in the opening exchanges to sit just three shots off the pace set by the American trio of Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka who all launched their Claret Jug bids with impressive 65s.
Laird, who had to battle his way through a qualifier for the tournament, finished the first round how started with a bogey 5 but in between those dropped shots he played some fine golf to leave him well placed in Southport.
Compatriot Ramsay continued his recent good form with a steady 18 holes with three birdies and just the one bogey on his card.
Paul Casey of England had a pleasing day in front of home fans, a 66 seeing him tucked in just behind the leaders alongside former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, whose birdie-birdie finish carried him up the leaderboard in some style.
Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion Rafa Cabrera Bello showed no ill effects of his celebrations following his Dundonald success, the Spaniard carding a 67 to match the scores of Ian Poulter, Richard Bland and Austin Connelly.
“I played pretty solid,” said Koepka. “I felt like I was in control of the golf ball pretty much all day and it was just fun to get back playing again.”
Kuchar turned in 29 with birdies on the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth but a host of scraped edges on the back nine meant he had to be content with a share of the lead.
Poulter made an early move with birdies on the second and fourth and while he dropped a shot on the seventh, he picked it back up on the ninth to turn in 32. Another birdie on the 17th then saw him set the target before the American charge.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson carded a one-under-par 69 and said: “It’s a Major championship and under par is never a bad score. So I will definitely take that start.”
Spain’s Jon Rahm, meanwhile, was at the centre of a rules controversy for the second time in less than a fortnight.
He was penalised two shots on the 17th for moving a plant close to his ball but later had the strokes restored after rules officials accepted his explanation that his lie was not improved.
It meant the 22-year-old was able to sign for the one-under-par 69 that he shot rather than the one-over score that was initially indicated when he completed his round.
Rahm moved what he felt was dead vegetation, which would have been classed as a loose impediment, only for playing partner Lee Westwood to point out it was something growing.
The Spaniard, who birdied the 17th after finding the green with that second shot, said: “I don’t know what to call the plants – the one with the thorns in it, about three feet long – it was just right over my ball.
“I thought it was a loose impediment because it looked dead so I just moved it to the side. That is when Lee came. He realised it was not loose, it was still attached.
“We asked the rules official. He said improving my lie by moving an impediment that was not loose was a two-stroke penalty.
“That is what we agreed on. They said it was a two-stroke penalty and we were going to review the footage afterwards. Unfortunately for me I was the only one that saw it, there were no cameras to back me up.
“But it was never on my lie, never on my line, never on my swing path. It was not going to bother me anyway. I explained my version of what happened. Basically, after that they made the decision there was no stroke penalty.”
The incident came after a similar brush with authority during the final round of his victory at the Irish Open at Portstewart earlier this month when he was deemed to have incorrectly replaced his ball on the sixth green but was later cleared of any infringement.
Rory McIlroy recovered from a disastrous start in the best of the afternoon conditions which saw him slump to five over on the front nine, the Northern Irishman battling well on the inward half to sign for a 71, one-over par.
For long enough he looked destined to miss his third cut in the row after his failings in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, however he covered the last 12 holes in a confidence-boosting four-under par.
-5: Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar.
-4: Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel.
-3: Ian Poulter, Justin Thomas, Richard Bland, Austin Connelly, Charlie Hoffman, Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
-2: Bubba Watson, Richie Ramsay, Martin Laird.
-1: Adam Scott, Jason Day, Matt Fitzpatrick.
Even: Paul Lawrie.