Poulter among pace-setters at RBC Heritage

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Washington (AFP)

Ian Poulter fired seven birdies, including a 31-footer at the 17th, to share the early first-round lead on seven-under-par 64 on Thursday at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina.

England's Poulter, who said his precise irons helped him overcome some trouble off the tee, capped his round with a 213-yard five-iron to five feet for a birdie at 18.

He was tied atop the leaderboard with American Mark Hubbard with the afternoon starters still on the course.

"Any time you shoot seven-under par around this course, it's obviously a pretty good day,” said Poulter, who didn't miss a putt within 10 feet.

He picked up his first birdie of the day with a five-footer at the second, two-putted for birdie at the par-five fifth, drained a five-footer at nine and left himself less than two feet at the 11th.

A nine-foot birdie at 13 set the stage for his birdie-birdie finish.

"I feel I didn't hit it that well off the tee today, so I need to go straight to the range," Poulter said. "My iron play was solid and I holed out really well from kind of inside seven feet."

Hubbard's seven-under 64 was highlighted by a 10-foot eagle on the second.

Their nearest rivals in the clubhouse were Norway's Victor Hovland, Colombia's Sebastian Munoz and American Michael Thompson on six-under 65. Webb Simpson was at six-under with four to play.

American Jordan Spieth was the unlikely leader of a group on five-under 66, overcoming a triple-bogey at his third hole, the 12th, with eight birdies -- seven of them on his second nine.

"It's not a great feeling," Spieth said of finding himself three over through three holes after going right off the tee at 12.

His ball hit a tree and ended up out of bounds, but the three-time major winner was able to move on, stringing together six birdies in a row from the second through the seventh holes before capping his round with a birdie at nine.

- McIlroy struggles -

World number one Rory McIlroy settled for a one-over 72 on a day he acknowledged was "a little bit of a struggle."

The Northern Ireland star, coming off a disappointing 74 in the final round at the Charles Schwab Challenge, said there wasn't much change from Sunday's round at Colonial.

"Just missing tee-shots," McIlroy said, "Didn't get it in play enough to give myself looks at hitting it close into greens."

The tournament is the second since the US PGA Tour resumed play after a 91-day hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Poulter gave his Twitter followers an inside glimpse of some of the tour's coronavirus protection measures when he posted a video of himself undergoing a nasal swab COVID-19 test on Wednesday -- calling it a "bizarre sensation."

Poulter tested negative, as have all players, caddies and officials for two straight weeks.

"It's a great start," Poulter said of the negative tests. "I don't think the PGA Tour would have expected that. They definitely would have expected a few people, certainly from as far and wide as people are traveling to come in and play golf."