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Kevin Kisner surprise early leader at Open Championship

Kisner is ahead by one after impressive round of 66. (Photo: Getty Images )
American, Kevin Kisner, leads the Open Championship after an opening day which saw generally good conditions although a firming golf course, breezes which built during the latter stages of the morning into winds of near 20 mph during the afternoon and the demanding nature of Carnoustie would have their say.

When play was completed  more than 14 hours after it had begun, 31 players were under par but with the leader at 5 under even those 2 or 3 over par have not exactly shot themselves in the foot.

Most of the good scoring came early in the day, Kisner recovering from an early bogey to work his way into the outright lead with an eagle at the 6th and a series of three consecutive birdies in the middle of his back nine. His round of 66 has him leading by one over South Africans Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard and American Tony Finau.

Intriguingly, yet another South African is another shot back with Brandon Stone tied with Ryan Moore and Brendan Steele at 3 under.

Kisner’s form leading into this week gave little indication to a start such as this and after his round he paid credit to a change in his putting technique and set-up.

“I putted so badly at the Greenbrier and I really worked hard on it. I felt my ball position had gotten too far back at the Greenbrier and I was missing every putt to the right. So, I came her on Monday and worked really hard on my speed which is always the hardest thing for us to get accustomed to here.

“I felt the greens weren’t as slow as they had been in the past because the wind hadn’t been up yet so the transition wasn’t as big a deal and the ball started coming off on line and when I am doing that I feel I can hole them all.”

Just 22 putts and the best on that stat tells the story of a huge turnaround in his putting this week thus far.

A good friend of Jordan Spieth’s, Kisner has been exposed to the Claret Jug over the last twelve months and wants to return the favour to Spieth.

“I spent a lot of time with Jordan and that Claret Jug. I flew home with him last year after he won. I went to Paris with him and then over here from Paris and am staying with him this week and now he doesn’t have it so it will be cool to return the favour and let him have a look at it a little bit."

This is Kisner’s 4th Open Championship having made the cut in two but he has a best of 54th so this is an encouraging start in so many respects for the two time PGA Tour champion who earlier this year finished runner-up at the Dell Technologies Match Play.

“The golf course is great for me,” added the leader. “The conditions have been fine.  Going forward, you never know what you're going to have in Scotland.  I know the rain is coming in tomorrow. 

"I don't think the rain is going to affect how the golf course is playing in one day, but I have to just keep doing what I'm doing.  If I have 22 putts the next three days, I bet I'll have a pretty good shot.”

Several players made great starts to their rounds but the vagaries of this great layout took their toll as the rounds continued, defending champion Jordan Spieth being a classic example.

Spieth appeared to be well in control of things when he birdied the 10th to reach the 11th tee at 3 under and just two from the lead. He would however fall victim to the demands of the famed Carnoustie finish dropping four shots in his last four holes for a round of 71.

Spieth talked after his round about some costly decision making.  "Yeah, it felt like a missed opportunity. I felt like I was really going well.  I had a nice par save after driving it in the bunker on 6.  Other than that, it was very stress-free.  I was putting the ball where I needed to, having maybe no more than fewer feet for par on every hole.  It was just a clean round of golf.

"I've done a bit of that this year, just the decision making that's cost me.  But the misses towards the end were the exact misses that I've been having and I'm working away from. My swing just didn't quite hold up to the end of my round. 

“Those long irons really hurt me today. Drew the ball okay until the 18th hole with the driver. Hit my driver really well and hit my short irons and putted pretty well.  But those long irons just didn't quite hold up.”

Perhaps the surprise of the day was the performance of World Number One Dustin Johnson whose round of 76 would appear to have all but cost him any chance of finally winning this event. He was doing his best to hang on to at least an acceptable score when an out of bounds at the last led to a triple bogey and his five over par round.

US Open champion Brooks Koepka will be buoyed by a late surge, a back 9 of 31 getting him right back into the tournament after reaching the turn in 41. He said as much after his round. Only Tony Finau recorded more birdies than Koepka's 6.

“Yeah, I mean, I'm not one to give up,” he said.  “I'm not one to get pissed off and feel sorry for myself. I feel like I played well.  Like I said, I was playing well even during that stretch.  You've just got to keep plugging away, and hopefully some good stuff happens.

“I was eight back after the U.S. Open (opening round). I'm not really concerned. It would be nice to have some softer conditions in the morning, maybe no wind. It will be -- the course will definitely be softer tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to that.”

Amongst other leading players to make good starts are Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas (69) and Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren and Henrik Stenson (70) and Tiger Woods an even par 71.

A full Australian wrap can be found here, but Adam Scott, Jason Day and Cameron Davis lead the group of eight. 

The weather tomorrow is expected to hurt those out early, meaning that those who have an early / late draw this week appear to have an advantage.

Rain and wind is expected overnight and tomorrow morning making the already demanding Carnoustie even more so.







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