The long-awaited return of the British Open got under way under blue skies at Royal St George’s on Thursday as former champion Louis Oosthuizen shot to the top of the leaderboard on six under par.
England’s Richard Bland fired the first shot of the 149th Open Championship, which was delayed a year by the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 32,000 fans will take to the course in Sandwich, Kent, as Covid-19 restrictions ease in England despite a spike in positive cases.
Oosthuizen has been frustrated so far this year in his attempt to add to his only major triumph after cruising to victory in the 2010 British Open at St Andrews.
The South African finished second in this year’s last two 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.
Jordan Spieth, who lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 2017, is one shot back after setting the clubhouse lead with a 65.
The American refound his form with victory at the Texas Open in April, his first for nearly four years.
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, and American Brian Harman are two shots off the lead.
Pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, this year’s US Open champion, was stung by a double bogey at the par four ninth to be two over through 16 holes.
Playing partner Shane Lowry, the reigning British Open champion, made a nightmare start to his title defence with bogeys on the opening two holes before the Irishman pulled a shot back to take the turn one over.
Off the course, Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau’s ongoing feud has been the talk of the tour this week.
Koepka admitted he is no fan of the Royal St. George’s course, but the serial contender for major championships kept himself in the hunt with a round of 69 despite bogeying the 18th.
DeChambeau accepted before the tournament his booming drives off the tee may have to be tempered this week, with staying out of the lush rough the key to remaining in contention for the weekend.
However, he consistently found himself hacking out of what he described as “diabolical” hay in an up and down round that contained four birdies and five bogeys for a 71.
Rory McIlroy will begin his quest to end a seven-year major drought as one of the late starters.