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Plenty of sunshine, short sleeves, manageable breezes and a yielding links ruled most of the first day of the 149th edition of the British Open and led to the famous yellow scoreboards turning brighter with red numbers.
With the nearby sea far from angry during the better part of Thursday’s first round, players got the better of quirky Royal St. George’s until conditions toughened as the afternoon turned to evening.
Louis Oosthuizen, who has finished runner-up in the past two majors, stood on top of the leaderboards with a 6-under-par 64. The 2010 Open champion at St. Andrews began with seven consecutive pars before heating up with six birdies in his last 11 holes.
“Probably in my mind the perfect round I could have played,” Oosthuizen said. “I didn’t make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. Just a very good solid round.
“Number one, on this golf course it’s hit the fairway. You’re not going to be able to do much from the rough here or the fairway bunkers. If you aren’t comfortable with a driver around this golf course, then don’t be scared laying further back, as long as you can get in the fairway.”
Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who won the Claret Jug in 2017, turned in a 65 and was joint second with Brian Harman, who has missed the cut in his last four starts in the British Open.
“I’ve really loved this tournament,” Spieth said. “Played well here, whether I’ve come in in form or not. I think (links golf) brings a lot of the feel aspect into the game. “I shorten swings up over here and hit more punch shots and just stuff that I probably should be doing at home. I get less swing-focused and more shot-focused over here because the second you take your brain off what you’re hitting, you may not find your ball.”
Among five players at 66 were 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. A large group at 67 included 2020 PGA champion Collin Morikawa, 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. Fourteen more players were at 68, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey.
With the course softened by a wet summer in southeast England, players weren’t at the mercy of the usually unpredictable and wild bounces on the rugged, bumpy landscape. And the forecast is far from frightening, with dry conditions expected through the end of the final round with winds stiffening throughout each day.
At the first day’s end, 48 of the 156 players were under par. The field averaged 70.53, one of the lowest scoring days in the championship’s history. Among those who didn’t take advantage of the better conditions included world No. 2 and reigning U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm and 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, both who came in with 71.
DeChambeau drew post-round attention to himself with a comment about his driver (more specifically that “the driver sucks,”) to which Cobra later responded.
With tee times spread out over 14½ hours, however, some players ended up on the wrong side of the draw. As the day aged, temperatures dropped a few degrees and the wind velocity increased a few mph.
Webb Simpson, with a 66, turned in the best score among the late starters.
“I felt like a day when the wind is gusting and blowing this much, it’s hard to make all your four- to seven-footers for par, and I did that today,” he said. “And capitalized on the shorter holes.”
But reigning PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who teed off at 2:48 local time, said ahead of the tournament he had no idea how he would play. Well, Mickelson, who tied for second in 2011 that last time Royal St. George’s hosted the Open, didn’t make a birdie and shot 80.
World No. 3 Justin Thomas shot 72, four-time major winner and 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy a 70, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed a 72 and world No. 7 Patrick Cantlay a 74.
“It was a tricky afternoon. The conditions got pretty rough there in the middle of the round,” McIlroy said. “The wind got up and I made a few bogeys in a row, so sort of said to myself at the turn if I could get back to even-par for the day I would be happy. To birdie the last hole and get back to even-par, yeah, it’s nice to finish like that. Looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow.”