SOUTHPORT, England -- Matt Kuchar has never been a serious contender at The Open, but the American who made his debut in the tournament as a 19-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998 is looking to change that this weekend.
The seven-time PGA Tour winner got to the clubhouse Friday afternoon just as the weather promised to get more difficult, adding a 1-over-par 71 to his opening 65 as the other first-round co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka had yet to tee off.
Kuchar finished at 136, 4 under par, putting him a stroke behind Spieth and Koepka. Englishman Ian Poulter was another stroke back early in his round. The other player on the leaderboard who had completed his round was Scotland's Richie Ramsay, who played with Kuchar the first two days. Ramsay shot 70 and is at 138, 2 under.
Kuchar, whose opening-round score was his best in a major, played steady in trying conditions, making three birdies and three bogeys.
"Been pleased with my game," said Kuchar, whose last victory came at the 2014 Heritage. "Was real happy with my performance last week at the Scottish Open. We had a couple awfully challenging days there at the Scottish Open. And I remember being on the course thinking -- at one point on the 12th hole Saturday, I had 129 yards to the pin and hit a 6-iron in. And thought to myself, I am glad I'm over here, glad I'm doing this.
"It was extremely difficult conditions, but this is not something I can ever remember doing in the States. And just getting a feel for playing the different shots that you are required to play over here."
Kuchar, 39, has eight top-10 finishes in major championships, but all three of his top-5s have come at the Masters, where he was tied for fourth this year. His best at The Open was a tie for ninth in 2012.
Rory McIlroy, who played the first six holes of the championship in 5 over par on Thursday, rebounded to get on the leaderboard Friday. He played the 10th through 27th holes of the tournament in 63 and didn't drop a shot Friday until the 13th hole after making four birdies in his first six holes.
"It's only going to get more difficult," said Ernie Els, the two-time Open champion who shot 73 and stands at 1 over par. "I'll be having some tea watching them this afternoon."
Several prominent players are in danger of missing the 36-hole cut, which was projected at 3 over par but is likely to go higher. Phil Mickelson, who made a triple-bogey at the third hole, was 9 over par on the back nine. Jason Day, with a 6-6-6 finish, was 5 over.