July 15, 2021
By Ed Osmond
SANDWICH, England (Reuters) – Former champions Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth sparkled in the morning sunshine as the 149th British Open started at Royal St George’s on Thursday.
South African Oosthuizen, the winner in 2010, made six birdies in a flawless 64 to finish on six under par, one shot ahead of American Spieth, champion in 2017.
Brian Harman matched his compatriot Spieth with a 65 to share second place, one clear of Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, South African Dylan Frittelli and veteran American Stewart Cink, another former champion.
Oosthuizen, 38, struck his irons beautifully to pick up three birdies around the turn and added three more on the closing holes to make a strong start to his bid for a second major title.
“Probably in my mind it was the perfect round I could have played,” he told reporters. “I didn’t make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. So, yeah, just a very good solid round.”
Spieth made four consecutive birdies from the fifth hole and sank a 12-foot putt on the 16th green to cap a fine round and confirm the 27-year-old’s return to form after he finished 2020 ranked 82nd in the world.
England’s Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan and Jack Senior carded 67s along with South African Justin Harding, American Scottie Scheffler and South Korea’s An Byeong-Hun.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic but up to 32,000 fans are allowed in each day this year as part of a government test event and warm applause rippled around the links course.
“The Open is a very special venue, a very special tournament for everyone,” Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, told reporters.
“To be able to be clapped onto every tee, every green makes a big difference in this game and it’s been fantastic to have them back.”
It was a tough day for 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau who battled to a round of 71.
The long-hitting American visited the treacherous rough on several occasions and made three bogeys on the front nine to drop back to one over.
DeChambeau appeared to have worked out the undulating fairways when he collected three consecutive birdies from the 12th but two more dropped shots left him well off the pace.
World number one Dustin Johnson started with a solid 68 and defending champion Shane Lowry of Ireland carded 71 playing with Oosthuizen and Spanish U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm, whose 71 was spoiled by a double bogey at the ninth.
Four-times major champion Rory McIlroy, British Open winner in 2014, was among the late starters along with PGA champion Phil Mickelson.
Richard Bland was given the honour of hitting the opening shot of the tournament and the Englishman, who won his first European PGA Tour title this season at the 478th attempt, struck his drive straight down the fairway.
“It was very special, very nerve-racking,” Bland told reporters. “This is what it’s all about. The nerves definitely sort of cranked up a little bit and I was glad to hit one in the fairway.”
(Reporting by Ed Osmond; Editing by Ken Ferris)