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

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.

Danny Willet

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.

Ian Poulter

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.

Poulter, runner-up here in 2008, hit his tee shot at the par-three fourth to 15 feet and holed for birdie to take the outright lead on two under.

Willett dropped back to level after catching an awkward stance in a bunker at the short seventh and missing his six-foot par attempt.

Poulter also had sand trouble at the difficult sixth having initially driven into the rough but holed a lengthy putt for par to maintain his lead.

Fellow Englishman and European amateur champion Alfie Plant stiffed his approach to six feet at the first to immediately move into outright second place.

AP


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