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Ian Poulter thought he weathered the brutal conditions as best he could. (Redington/Getty Images)

Behind McDowell, British contingent starts strong

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Englishmen Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher both carded 72s Thursday, while Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose also got off to respectable starts.

SOUTHPORT, England (PA) - With Graeme McDowell tied for the lead, Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher ably backed up the British challenge on Day One of the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Northern Ireland's McDowell is in a three-way tie for the lead alongside Australian Robert Allenby and American Rocco Mediate after shooting a 1-under-par 69. He is therefore three strokes ahead of Englishmen Poulter and Fisher, who both carded 2-over-par 72s.

Poulter had two birdies and three bogeys as he headed out in 35 in the worst of the wet and windy conditions. And, despite dropping three shots in five holes after the turn, he took advantage of the par-5 15th and 17th holes to birdie both.

"Standing on the range this morning, the rain's coming in sideways and the wind's blowing 30 (mph) and as we know we only had four holes downwind, so you know it's going to be relentless," the 32-year-old said. "When the wind and rain are like it was on the front nine, it's brutal. I managed to weather it pretty good, stayed focused and hit some good golf shots.

"It is easy to let it get to you very quickly and you can let it slip," he added. "You only have to look at the board to see there are some great players shooting very big numbers."

Teeing off in the afternoon, Fisher enjoyed better conditions than Poulter and also went to the turn in 35, with one more bogey scored coming home.

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Scotland's Colin Montgomerie lies one stroke behind on 3 over, as does Paul Waring, the Wirral-based 23-year-old playing in his second Open.

"There's always shots left out there, but at the same time I got quite fortunate," Montgomerie said. "On the first tee if you would have said 73, I would have gone down to the clubhouse and had another coffee.

"A 73 is safe; it's not great, it's not wonderful, but it's enough to have a good score tomorrow to get me contending for the weekend and that's what I want to do."

Meanwhile, Justin Rose, who finished fourth at Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, and Open debutant James Horsey from Lancashire both shot 74s. Rose went out in 38 but played the back nine in regulation and was satisfied with his performance.

"It was a long day without a birdie and the front nine was hard work," he said. "To have no birdies kind of hurt, but I really dug in on the back nine."

Ryder Cup star Lee Westwood was among a group of Englishmen - Hull's Richard Finch, Warrington's Phillip Archer and Liverpool's Nick Dougherty - on 5 over.

Westwood, who finished third in last month's U.S. Open, showed his battling qualities by holding his round together after an outward half of 40. However, a birdie and eight successive pars saw him come home in 35.

"The rain changed the course considerably and it was difficult to get the speed of the greens," he said. "I was battling away. There is not a lot you can do, just keep your head down and keep grinding.

"That is partly what majors are like and it's what you have to do when conditions are tough."

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