Friday key questions: Can Kuchar continue first-timer streak?
One day is in the books at The 146th Open, but there’s still much to be decided before someone leaves Royal Birkdale with the Claret Jug.
Here are five key questions to ponder heading into the second round on the Southport links:
Can Jordan Spieth chew his way to Champion Golfer of the Year status?
Spieth chomped on the same piece of mint gum throughout his opening round, a bogey-free 65 that served as an approach-shot clinic and gave him a share of the lead. Spieth missed a playoff by a shot two years ago at St. Andrews, but after a win in his most recent start he is again atop a leaderboard and seemingly brimming with confidence on a course where his iron play should continue to yield dividends.
Is Matt Kuchar the next first-time major winner?
Seven straight majors have been won by first-timers, and Kuchar is now on the short list of most accomplished players still looking for one. An opening 65 was his lowest career round in a major and gave him a share of the lead. It also continued his torrid recent stretch that includes finishes of T-16 or better in each of his last five worldwide starts.
Will the American invasion continue?
It’s a red, white and blue leaderboard at Royal Birkdale, with Spieth and Kuchar sharing the opening-round lead with reigning U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka. That serves as a stark contrast to The Open here in 2008, when Jim Furyk (T-5) finished as the low American. Only two of the last seven Opens have been won by Americans, the last being Zach Johnson in 2015.
Can Paul Casey or Ian Poulter break England’s Open drought?
It’s been 25 years since Nick Faldo won The Open for the third time at Muirfield, but that remains the most recent time an Englishman has lifted the Claret Jug. Casey will celebrate his 40th birthday Friday after a 4-under 66 lifted him to within a shot of the lead, while Poulter was out early with an opening-round 67 on a course where he rallied to a runner-up finish in memorable fashion 10 years ago.
Which surprise will endure?
The Open inevitably gives us unexpected storylines, and this week is sure to be no exception. But who can parlay 18 holes of success into something more lasting? Welshman Stuart Manley took the early lead with an eagle-birdie finish to cap a 68 in his Open debut, while Canadian Austin Connelly was one shot better with his debut effort hours later. David Lipsky, Kent Bulle, Sunghoon Kang and Richard Bland are among the longshots who will begin the second round within three shots of the lead after defying expectations with their opening efforts.