|-6 L Oosthuizen (SA); -5 J. Spieth (USA), B. Harman (USA); -4 M Hughes (Can), D Frittelli (SA), S Cink (US), B Hebert (Fra), W Simpson (US)|
|Selected others: -3 A Sullivan (Eng), J Rose (Eng), D Willett (Eng), J Senior (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng); -2 D. Johnson (USA), P. Casey (Eng), -1 B. Koepka (USA); level R. McIlroy (NI); +1 J Rahm (Spa), B DeChambeau (USA); +10 P. Mickelson (USA)|
Former champion Louis Oosthuizen leads The Open in one fell swoop after scoring a brilliant bogey-free six under par on the opening day at Royal St George’s.
The 2010 winner saved the level on the 18th to set the early pace as the Kent venue welcomed the return of fans, with up to 32,000 a day.
This puts the South African ahead of another former champion, the American Jordan Spieth, the 2017 winner.
Brian Harman also got five under in warm but windy conditions on the coast.
Six big winners have been chosen since The Open was last held two years ago, with the 2020 championship canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shane Lowry won the 148th edition in Portrush in 2019 and the Irishman opened his title defense on Thursday with a 1-1.
England’s Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood are part of a group that is three behind the top, while American world number one Dustin Johnson is two behind another.
McIlroy is battling “really windy” afternoon conditions
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was one of the late finishers and fought his way back to level with an excellent birdie putt on the final day – his fourth of the day to level four bogeys.
“Mentally it feels a little better than birdie last and I’m looking forward to getting out tomorrow,” said McIlroy.
“Tommy [Fleetwood] shot a great 67 which is probably the best of our afternoon wave. Benjamin Hebert shot 66, but was out a little earlier than us.
“When we warmed up it felt like a nice breeze, but when we were outside, especially on the water, it was really windy. Everything that was equally good today was pretty good.”
Spain’s world number two Jon Rahm, the short odds favorite for this big and reigning US Open champion, also made 18 birdies to end a one over, but US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson made a double bogey to himself for a 10 over par 80.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama is one of several players not competing this week due to Covid issues.
Be patient while Oosthuizen takes a big win
Oosthuizen has almost improved his record on several occasions since his Open victory in St. Andrews a little more than a decade ago with six runner-ups, including at the 2015 Open.
“It gives me confidence to go into majors because I know I will still compete in them and still have a chance to win,” said the 38-year-old.
“But when the week starts I have to get that out of my head and just focus on every round and every shot.”
Oosthuizen also said that patience is key to performing well in golf’s flagship events, opening with seven straight pars before making three birdies through the turn.
Three more followed the second nine within four holes to remove him from the field, but Oosthuizen had to climb in 18th place after finding a bunker with his drive, flaking off and then successfully making an up and down of 70 Yards to stay away from Spieth and Harman.
“Out here in windy conditions like this, you have to keep going the way you feel all the time,” he added after dealing with a breeze that blew up to 30 km / h in places.
“It is difficult for the caddy to see what you think you want to do, so it’s great that he gives me a lot of confidence in trying to get the shot I want to play.”
With 52 of the last 60 Open winners just four strokes off the lead after the first round, history suggests Oosthuizen has a crowd of 30 rushing to track him down.
Spieth is happy about the return of the fans
One of them is Spieth, who stormed three majors in as many years but has not contributed since his win at Royal Birkdale in 2017 when the 27-year-old also started at 65.
He dropped out of the top 50 in the world last year but has rediscovered his form and taken his first win since raising the Claret Jug four years ago when he won the Valero Texas Open in April.
The world number 23 showed that he is ready to compete for majors again, with a tie for third place at this year’s Masters.
He bogeyed the third par three but bounced back with four birdies in a row to hit the turn at three under before following with two more to the second nine, which he celebrated with a clenched fist after hitting a fine putt. On had thrown in the third 16.
“On the ropes, when we tee off, it feels the most normal of all tournaments we have played so far compared to this tournament in previous years before Covid,” said Spieth.
“The fans are fantastic here. They are simply the best in golf. Very competent and you always know where the ball is, even if it’s a blind stroke.”
Perhaps a Spieth win is inevitable as it is grouped with Branden Grace, the South African who has accompanied the last two Open champions during their first two rounds.
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner, completes this trio and appeared to struggle himself with three consecutive birdies on the second nine before a bogey at 15.
The hard-hitting American previously said he was considering using iron from the tee this week but tried driving the green at 17 and eventually dropped another shot after hitting the rough just before the putting surface.
That meant he finished one over par after one round with four birdies and five bogeys.
English contingent in battle
Richard Bland, who won his first tournament on the European Tour in the 478th attempt by winning the British Masters at The Belfry in May, hit the first tee on Thursday and some of his compatriots are in the running at the end of the game.
Sullivan, who raced alongside Bland, reached three under par and was supported by Major Champions Willett and Rose and 2019 runner-up Fleetwood, as well as Jack Senior – a 32-year-old who has only recently played on the European Tour Year.
One back is Paul Casey, who failed to build on two birdies in his first three holes but went bogey for the day, while Lee Westwood, who will break the record of 87 majors without a win for American Jay Haas if he does not win this week, one over.
Should one of them do the Claret Jug on Sunday, he would be the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“Right now, I think the chance is probably as good as we had it, maybe ever,” said Rose. “Look, the boys can do it. We all grew up playing links golf and it’s a style of golf we all love.”
Scotland’s wait for an Open Champion is a little shorter, but their only representative in the field at Royal St George’s is Robert MacIntyre – who was only two years old when Paul Lawrie won at Carnoustie in 1999 – and the 24-year-old finished two over par.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who won the Claret Jug in emotional scenes the last time Royal St George’s hosted The Open in 2011, scored a 71.
Fitzpatrick walks to the course in a traffic jam
While there are overloads in the leaderboard, there have also been some off-course this morning as Sergio Garcia feared he wouldn’t make his start time.
The Spaniard, who was beaten by two, needed a police escort after a robbery and arrived about 35 minutes beforehand, shortening his normal 90-minute preparation.
Frenchman Lucas Herbert also needed a police escort and said the traffic was “awful” while Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick chose to walk from his nearby rental home to be on time.
“It’s only a 15 minute walk so it’s nothing real. People were walking slowly so we passed them all and got there in a decent time,” he said after finishing one.
The R&A Open organizers said Thursday’s congestion was due to “a breakdown and a minor collision” and not a broader problem.