SANDWICH, United Kingdom (AFP) – Louis Oosthuizen led after the first round at the British Open for two years as a six under par 66 from the South African put him one shot clear of American duo Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman.
The 149th Open Championship got underway under blue skies at Royal St. George’s in Kent on Thursday after the 2020 event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 32,000 fans will take to the course in Sandwich each day as Covid-19 restrictions ease in England despite a spike in positive cases.
“It feels the most normal of any tournament I think that we’ve played thus far relative to that same tournament in previous years pre-Covid,” said Spieth, aiming to emulate his 2017 Open victory at Royal Birkdale.
– Mistake-free Oosthuizen –
Oosthuizen has been frustrated so far this year in his attempt to add to his only major triumph, a dominant victory in the 2010 Open at St Andrews.
The world number 13 finished second in this year’s two most recent majors, the US PGA Championship and US Open, and is now in contention again.
After starting with seven straight pars, Oosthuizen accelerated around the turn with seven birdies in 10 holes.
“The perfect round I could have played,” said Oosthuizen.
“I didn’t make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. So just a very good solid round.”
Spieth has rediscovered his form of late with a victory at the Texas Open in April his first in nearly four years.
“Golf is a game played between the ears,” added the three-time major champion. “When it’s not going great, you can certainly lose quite a bit of confidence.
“That was the first time I’ve had to really try and build confidence back up, and it takes time.”
Spieth shot up the leaderboard thanks to four consecutive birdies between the fifth and the eighth holes and finished strongly by picking up two more shots at 15 and 16.
Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, on his British Open debut, South African Dylan Frittelli, Americans Stewart Cink and Webb Simpson and France’s Benjamin Hebert are two off the lead after rounds of 66.
World number four Colin Morikawa and English trio Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willett are among those on three under.
Dustin Johnson’s best finish at an Open Championship came at Royal St. George’s 10 years ago when the world number one finished second to Darren Clarke and he is well positioned after an opening round of 68.
Pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, the recently crowned US Open champion, was stung by a double bogey at the par four ninth, but finished with a birdie for a one over round of 71.
Rory McIlroy’s quest to end a seven-year major drought got a late boost as he birdied two of the last five holes for an even par round of 70.
Brooks Koepka admitted pre-tournament that he is no fan of the course, but the serial contender for major championships kept himself in the hunt with a round of 69 despite bogeying the 18th.