Day one of the British Open got off to an exciting start at Royal St George’s on Thursday, with Louis Oosthuizen the current clubhouse leader.
The South African and former Open champion Oosthuizen set the early pace on as he posted a lead of six under par. The 2010 winner rescued par on the 18th to record a bogey-free 64 as the Kent venue welcomed the return of crowds, with around 32,000 in attendance.
Oosthuizen has gone close to adding to his major tally on a few occasions since his Open victory at St Andrews just over a decade ago, with six runners-up finishes including 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 after that. Three more followed in the space of four holes on the back nine to send him clear at the top. He was forced to scramble on the 18th after finding a bunker with his drive, chipping out and then successfully making an up-and-down to stay one ahead of Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman.
The pair finished on five under par in a day which was contested in warm but windy conditions on the coast.
Since The Open was last played two years ago, six major winners have been crowned, with last year’s Championship being cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The last winner to lift the famous Claret Jug was Shane Lowry at Portrush and the Irishman opened his defence on Thursday with a one-over par score of 71.
Lowry struggled but a 71 wasn't a bad return, and it would've been even better but for a bogey on the last. “It was a very special day for me,” said Lowry. “The announcement on the first tee, I've been waiting over a year for that, so it's quite nice. It was quite unsettling at the start and I got off to a pretty nervy start. I battled hard for the rest of it.
“I was disappointed to bogey the last. I think if I would have parred the last and shot level par, I would have been quite happy with myself going home this afternoon, but I didn't.
“But I battled hard – I was quite proud of myself. On to tomorrow.”
US Open champion Jon Rahm will be disheartened, but not by much, after he finished one-over par. Englishman Justin Rose finished the day with three under par and his compatriot Tommy Fleetwood had an impressive first day too as he recorded three under par with the crowd behind him.
American world number one Dustin Johnson got his campaign off to a pressing start as he also recorded two under par. He played some good shots on the opening day but could not match the high-level performance of Oosthuizen.
Asked about the first day he said, “I thought I played very solid. Got off to a nice start. Struggled a little bit on seven, eight and nine. Kind of gave a few shots away there. Other than that, played really well.”
Fellow American Brooks Koepka ended the day with one under par after an expected impressive round, while Rory McIlroy, after a disappointing start to the day, was able to finish strong and ensure he finished with an even par.