|-6 L Oosthuizen (SA); -5 J Spieth (US), B Harman (US); -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 (US), P Casey (Eng), -1 B Koepka (US); Level R McIlroy (NI); +1 J Rahm (Spa), B DeChambeau (US); +10 P Mickelson (US)|
Former champion Louis Oosthuizen leads The Open by one stroke after posting a brilliant bogey-free six under par on the opening day at Royal St George’s.
The 2010 winner salvaged par on the 18th to set the early pace as the Kent venue welcomed the return of fans, with up to 32,000 allowed each day.
That puts the South African one clear of another former champion in American Jordan Spieth, the 2017 winner.
Brian Harman also reached five under in warm but windy conditions on the coast.
Six major winners have been crowned since the last staging of The Open two years ago, with the 2020 championship cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shane Lowry won the 148th edition at Portrush in 2019 and the Irishman opened his title defence on Thursday with a one-over 71.
Englishmen Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood are part of a group sitting three off the lead, with American world number one Dustin Johnson one further back at two under.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was among the late finishers and clawed his way back to level par with a superb birdie putt on the last – his fourth of the day to cancel out four bogeys.
Spain’s world number two Jon Rahm, the short-odds favourite for this major and reigning US Open champion, also birdied 18 to finish at one over but US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson made a double bogey to sign for a 10-over-par 80. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama is one of several players not competing this week because of Covid-related issues.
Patience key as Oosthuizen chases major win
Oosthuizen has gone close to adding to his major tally on a number of occasions since his Open victory at St Andrews just over a decade ago, with six runners-up finishes, including at the 2015 Open.
“It gives me confidence going into majors knowing that I’m still competing in them and I’ve still got chances of winning,” said the 38-year-old.
“But once the week starts, I need to get that out of my mind and just focus on every round and every shot.”
Oosthuizen also said patience is key to performing well at golf’s showpiece events and he opened with seven successive pars before making three birdies through the turn.
Three more followed in the space of four holes on the back nine to send him clear of the pack but Oosthuizen was forced to scramble on the 18th after finding a bunker with his drive, chipping out and then successfully making an up-and-down from 70 yards to stay one clear of Spieth and Harman.
“Out here in windy conditions like this, you need to go on what you feel the whole time,” he added after dealing with a breeze that gusted up to 20mph at points.
“It is difficult for the caddie to see what you think you want to do, so it’s great that he gives me a lot of confidence in trying to play the shot I want to play.”
With 52 of the last 60 Open winners sitting within four shots of the lead after round one, history suggests Oosthuizen has a 30-strong crowd jostling to track him down.
Spieth enjoys return of fans
One of those is Spieth, who stormed to three majors in as many years but has not added to that tally since winning at Royal Birkdale in 2017, when the 27-year-old also opened with a 65.
He dropped out of the world’s top 50 last year but has rediscovered his form and posted a first victory since lifting the Claret Jug four years ago when he won the Valero Texas Open in April.
The world number 23 showed he was ready to compete for majors again with a tie for third at this year’s Masters.
He bogeyed the par-three third but recovered with four birdies in a row to reach the turn at three under before following up with two more on the back nine, the latter of which he celebrated with a clenched fist after rolling in a fine putt on the par-three 16th.
“Inside the ropes when we teed off, it feels the most normal of any tournament that we’ve played thus far relative to that same tournament in previous years pre-Covid,” said Spieth.
“The fans are fantastic here. They’re just the best in golf. Very knowledgeable, and you always know where your ball is even if it’s a blind shot.”
Perhaps a Spieth win is inevitable given he is grouped with Branden Grace, the South African who has accompanied the past two Open champions during their opening two rounds.
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner, completes that trio and looked to be mounting a charge himself with three successive birdies on the back nine before a bogey at 15.
The big-hitting American said beforehand he was toying with the idea of using irons off the tee this week but tried to drive the green at 17 and ended up dropping another shot, after hitting into rough just shy of the putting surface.
That meant he finished one over par following a round that included four birdies and five bogeys.
English contingent in contention
Richard Bland, who won his first tournament on the European Tour at the 478th attempt with victory in the British Masters at The Belfry in May, hit the opening tee shot on Thursday and a number of his compatriots are in contention come the close of play.
Sullivan, who headed out alongside Bland, reached three under par and was joined by major champions Willett and Rose and 2019 runner-up Fleetwood, but also Jack Senior – a 32-year-old who has only been playing on the European Tour since last year.
One back is Paul Casey, who was unable to build on two birdies in his opening three holes but did go bogey-free for the day, while Lee Westwood, who will break American Jay Haas’ record of 87 majors without a victory if he does not win this week, finished one over.
Should one of those go on to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday, they would be the first Englishman to do so since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“Right now I think it’s probably as strong a chance as we’ve had, maybe even ever,” said Rose. “Listen, the lads can do it. We’ve all grown up playing lots of links golf and it is a style of golf that we all relish.”
Scotland’s wait for an Open champion is slightly shorter but their only representative in the field at Royal St George’s is Robert MacIntyre – who was only two 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 amid emotional scenes the last time Royal St George’s held The Open in 2011, shot a 71.
Fitzpatrick walks to course in congestion
While there is congestion on the leaderboard there was also some outside the course this morning, with Sergio Garcia worrying he would not make his tee time.
The Spaniard, who finished two under, needed a police escort after being held up and arrived around 35 minutes beforehand, cutting short his normal 90-minute preparation.
France’s Lucas Herbert also needed a police escort and said the traffic was “horrific”, while England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick opted to walk from his nearby rental home to make it on time.
“It’s only a 15-minute walk so it’s nothing really. People were walking slow so we were passing everyone and we got there in decent time,” he said after finishing one over.
Open organisers the R&A said Thursday’s congestion was due to “a breakdown and a minor collision” rather than being a wider problem.