Kuchar in strong position at Open as McIlroy emerges

England’s Tommy Fleetwood in action during a practice round REUTERS  Andrew Boyers

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy and American Phil Mickelson, runner-up to Stenson past year, were among the late starters with conditions expected to ease.

Rory McIlroy talked himself into a hole on Wednesday, telling reporters that this week's Open Championship is a "good week to back me".

The American began the day in a share of the lead at five under but dropped shots on the sixth and 13th in a second-round 72.

The trio all shot five-under-par rounds of 65 at Royal Birkdale on Thursday and hold a collective one-stroke lead over Paul Casey and South African former Masters champion Chad Schwartzel.

Spieth didn't drop a shot on the front nine, making three birdies and no bogeys as he tries to win his first British Open title. He rolled in pars on eight of his final nine holes, with his final bogey coming at the par-4 16th.

"That wasn't fun. It's been two years since I've played links golf, I'd say. I don't think it's anything else", he told the official Open Championship website.

"I was excited to get over here".

Koepka parred his first seven holes before a run of three successive birdies from the 11th. I don't know where to start.

"After yesterday I needed the weather to be bad, really".

"But after the injury at Augusta I spent a lot of time working on my swing and kind of not much time working on the short game. And it's a major championship, and if you can't get up for that, you might as well go home". "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'". I wanted to have those juices flowing. He was itching to get back to competition, and after arriving last weekend at Royal Birkdale to learn the course, he proved to be a quick study.

American Phil Mickelson, 2013 Open champion, shot 73, local favorite Tommy Fleetwood, the world number 14, could only manage a scrappy 76 and Mark O'Meara endured a day to forget on his return to the course where he won the 1998 Open.

"They're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks", he added.

Spieth has plenty of experience of going out in the last group on the weekend in a major, but he admitted he will still feel the nerves when he tees off on Saturday.