Open Championship: 10 hot opening rounds that could yield first major

Matt Kuchar of the United States hits a bunker shot on the 7th hole during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale on July 18, 2017 in Southport, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Matt Kuchar of the United States hits a bunker shot on the 7th hole during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale on July 18, 2017 in Southport, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) /

Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey among several strong openers looking for their first major at The Open Championship

The 146th Open Championship won’t be won on the strength of the first round but we can’t deny the value of a strong start. Already the leaderboard is beginning to take form, and as The Open goes into the second round it’s impossible to look at the board and avoid eye contact with one name.

Jordan. Spieth.

Always beware when a world-renowned closer gets off to a fast start. Spieth, who narrowly missed a putt on 18 to take the outright lead, will settle for a share of it at 5-under, 65.

It’s also difficult to shake the sight of the most recent major winner in Brooks Koepka, who mere weeks after hoisting the U.S. Open trophy, has his sights on deadlifting the Claret Jug on Sunday. Koepka matched Spieth with a 65 and is looking to waste no time on major title No. 2.

But before there can be a second, there must be a first. After winning at Erin Hills last month, Koepka never has to answer the questions again. He never has to continue to wonder about whether a major tournament is in the cards.

Lurking around and just below Spieth and Koepka, however, are ten golfers, who after an impressive first round, hope to feel the same.

Several are poised to make a run at winning his that precious major tournament after the first round of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

To start, look no further than the number 29.

No golfer had broken 30 on the front nine since 1991, until Matt Kuchar kicked the proverbial door in and announced his presence Thursday. Five birdies, 29 strokes, and plenty of instant buzz to Kuchar’s opening salvo.

Course record for the first nine holes in tow, Kuchar’s 5-under, 65, was good enough to gain a share of the lead with Spieth and Koepka.

Some might say that puts undue pressure on the Georgia native to repeat his fast start. With potentially questionable weather looking to settle in Friday, however, Kuchar has strokes to play with.

Paul Casey gave himself a timely 40th birthday present, shooting a four-under 66 to position himself just one shot behind the leaders.

Casey carded five birdies and one bogey Thursday.

Its feels like his time.

There is a pack at two back of golfers looking to break that bagel in the Major win column who shot 67 during the opening round. Ian Poulter, Justin Thomas, and Rafa Cabrera-Bello are among this distinguished group.

Poulter dropped four birdies in and had only a single bogey on the seventh hole to reach 3-under.

Thomas, the third-ranked golfer, and potential last-ranked dresser at Royal Birkdale, eagled 17, and sits two shots off the lead.

Cabrera-Bello sank six birdies and three bogies for a slightly erratic, yet highly-effective 67.

Unknown Austin Connelly has a fantastic backstory that has golf enthusiasts scrambling for information on the 20-year-old who skipped out on college to turn pro, and his 67 became perhaps the most unlikely Hollywood script in recent major memory.

Charley Hoffman’s 67 was impressive, but he’ll be hard pressed to top his second shot of the entire tournament: a hole-out eagle.

Hoffman finished with two late bogeys, but is still tied for sixth heading into Friday action.

And then there are those who finished on fire.

We’ll call them the reverse-Kuchars/Hoffmans.

More from Pro Golf Now

Richard Bland pulled a birdie-birdie-birdie on the day’s final three holes to join the group at 67 and two shots off the tournament lead.

While the finish merits watching how he starts and finishes in Round 2, the most telling part of Bland’s opening round might have come on 5 and 7.

Bland birdied those two holes following the only two bogies on his Thursday scorecard, showing he not only knows how to finish a round strong, but showed how to brush off a bad hole.

Stuart Manley bogied his opening hole, but stayed composed.

After playing level-par for the bulk of the round, Manley stormed into the clubhouse with an eagle-birdie to finish at 68.

While it’s impossible to bottle that sort of momentum onto the next day’s first tee, one has to believe that gives Manley confidence.

How about an 11th for free?

Maybe there is just some magic in a guy who 24 hours prior to tee time, didn’t actually have a tee time at all.

James Hahn made a great decision to stick around Southport prior to the start of the tournament.

True, that double bogey on 15 hurt, but three birdies on the final eight holes will help heal that wound. His four consecutive top-20 finishes make him an intriguing candidate to continue his strong play and make some waves this weekend.

And while you never root for a nagging hip injury to play a part in deciding a major (sorry, Mr. Snedeker), fate might be in his golf bag.

Next: The Open Championship: 5 American sleepers

There are, of course, the also-ran, guys who made unimpressive starts to the Open Championship. John Daly, starting Friday at 5-over, probably isn’t going to get much attention, nor are Louis Oosthuizen and Maverick McNealy. They’re starting at 8-over and facing a 13 shot spread that’s probably going to be insurmountable. This wasn’t their year or their time.