Familiar conditions help Poulter to prosper

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Ian Poulter drew heavily on the experience of coming second in the last Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as he begun this year's event in style with a three-under 67 on Thursday.

In challenging conditions on a breezy morning in Southport, Poulter offset a solitary bogey with four birdies to claim the early clubhouse lead, although both Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka subsequently reached four under as they approached the end of their respective rounds.

Poulter, who came through qualifying at his home course of Woburn to play this week, finished as runner-up to Padraig Harrington at Birkdale in 2008 after shooting an impressive 69 on the final day.

After a strong performance on his return to the course, the Englishman said: "It was a great day. I always knew it was going to be pretty strong winds - that's what the forecast was.

"The practice round earlier in the week was irrelevant, to be honest. On Tuesday it was the opposite wind to what we've had today. So the practice round really wasn't very helpful.

"What was helpful was the wind today was like it was on Sunday the last time it [The Open] was played [at Birkdale] in 2008.

"So to look at the yardage book last night and know where a driver is going to finish, if you can hit driver, and where a hybrid on certain holes is going to finish as well [was helpful].

"I almost played a round of golf last night in my head. I had a lower score in my head last night than I did today, but don't we all?"

While he was understandably delighted with his opening-day display, the 41-year-old - who has missed the last five majors amid injury problems - expects an even tougher test on Friday.

The afternoon starters could face gusts in excess of 30mph, prompting Poulter to add: "Tomorrow is going to be brutal. It was good to post a red number, considering what we've got coming."