One round down at the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale, three to go. Here are five burning questions we’re pondering on the eve of what could be a wet, wild Friday.
1. Will Mother Nature exact her revenge and will anyone be left standing when it’s over? Thursday featured clear skies, blessedly gentle breezes and red numbers, with Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar posting five-under 65s to grab the first-round lead. Friday’s forecast holds the potential for utter carnage — 20-30 mph winds with gusts in the 40s, plus rain all afternoon. Sounds like a grueling day for the golfers — and a perfect day to play hooky and tune in from the cozy, dry confines of your living-room couch.
2. Will there be a “lucky” side of the draw? We know the weather will be terrible, but often at the Open, one side of the tee sheet catches a calm spell, piles up the birdies and leaves the other side of the draw in the dust. It could happen again Friday. Among the leaders, Kuchar, Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel will tee off in the morning. Spieth, Koepka and Ian Poulter get the afternoon.
3. Is Rory McIlroy ready to salvage his summer? McIlroy hasn’t looked right since returning from a rib injury at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and his opening round at Birkdale was a rollercoaster. He bogeyed five of his first six holes to put his chances in immediate jeopardy, but gamely rallied with four birdies on the back to finish one-over 71. Traditionally, McIlroy has not been a great bad-weather player; in less than 12 hours he will be pelted with some of the U.K.’s worst. If he can play himself back into the tournament, it’s a positive sign, regardless of where he finishes Sunday.
4. Will a group of big names miss the cut? It was a prime scoring day, but some of the early favorites failed to capitalize. Joining McIlroy at one over are Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. Martin Kaymer is two over. Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson shot three-over 73s. Any could get into contention with a good bad-weather round. But each could blow out of town Friday night.
5. Is it finally Kooch’s time? At age 39, Matt Kuchar has banked more than $39 million on Tour. He has eight major-championship top-10s but no titles. On Thursday he stormed to a front-nine 29, flashing an array of stellar irons and pouring in a few putts, like this birdie on 4:
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2017
For a hot minute there, Kuchar was on pace for a major-championship record 62, but he carded nine consecutive pars on the back nine to match Spieth and Koepka with 65. Kuchar has won seven titles on Tour, but the Open typically is not his strongest major – his best finish is T-9 in 2012. Men’s golf is currently on a run of seven consecutive first-time major champs. After 18 holes, Kuchar is set up to extend that streak.