They say there is no substitute for experience and several Champion Golfers who know just what it takes to lift the Claret Jug set about showing their class on the opening day at Royal St George’s
Three of the top eight on the leaderboard have sampled Open success before, including two of the top three, as the links again proved to the liking of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen, Jordan Spieth and Stewart Cink – with several other Champions lurking not too far behind.
Whether it was due to their knowledge of the links, ability to handle the breeze or being spurred on by memories of past glories, having a Claret Jug already in the locker seemed to be a real boon on day one.
LOUIS LEADS THE WAY
Louis Oosthuizen admitted in his Wednesday media conference that his 2010 triumph at St Andrews ‘feels like ages ago’ – and his attempts to scratch his major itch have not been helped by a string of runners-up finishes, including two this year alone.
But he has started at Royal St George’s like a man with a point to prove. The South African is part of a star-studded group containing reigning Champion Golfer Shane Lowry and world no.2 Jon Rahm but was the only one of the trio to finish under par on Thursday.
He did not have it all his own way to begin with and needed a super chip to save par on the 4th but once into his stride, the birdies began to flow.
Oosthuizen racked up three on the spin at the halfway point, with a long-range putt on the 9th providing the filling in the sandwich, and a beautiful approach on 14 saw him repeat the feat on a hole which proved a stumbling block to many in round one.
Afterwards, he called it ‘the perfect round’ – something similar on Friday would set him up very nicely indeed for the weekend.
SPIETH ON THE SURGE
Jordan Spieth’s success at Royal Birkdale remains his most recent major win and he looked in a similarly ominous mood on the opening day here.
The more superstitious among his fanbase will point to the same opening score four years ago (65) alongside a playing partner who has been paired with the eventual Champion Golfer for rounds one and two in each of the last two Open Championships (Branden Grace) as signs the stars are aligning and though Spieth laughed off the coincidence, there was no shortage of evidence to suggest history could repeat itself.
Like Oosthuizen, he did not fly out of the traps but he recovered in style from a bogey at the 3rd.
A trademark long-range putt from the edge of the green two holes later got him up and running and started a run of four consecutive birdies.
The 27-year-old’s steely determination was apparent throughout his round and more clinical work on the 16th green helped him finish on an excellent -5.
Spieth proved more reliable off the tee than his compatriot and playing partner Bryson DeChambeau, who was a regular visitor to the rough but certainly is not out of the picture completely at +1.
CINK ROLLS BACK THE YEARS
Stewart Cink is no stranger to a barbecue and the American was cooking with gas on day one at Royal St George’s.
The 48-year-old, who had the week of his golfing life at Turnberry in 2009 that culminated in a play-off victory over Tom Watson, was not among the favourites this week but having set off in the group immediately behind Oosthuizen, he stayed on the South African’s tail in leaderboard terms with a skilful round.
Back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 marked the highlight of a round containing no dropped shots and in a Championship which has never been a stranger to bringing veterans into play, Cink will hope to last the pace.
BEST OF THE REST
Francesco Molinari, Champion Golfer in 2018, is also in the red – the Italian stands a couple of shots behind Cink having compiled a 68.
An eventful start saw a bogey sat between two birdies on the first three and a brilliant approach on the 18th helped Molinari finish with a flourish.
Given he was playing in the windier afternoon conditions, this round was arguably just as impressive as Oosthuizen's, Spieth's or Cink's.
Meanwhile, reigning Champion Golfer Shane Lowry was proud of his battling spirit but has plenty of work to do from +1, the same score recorded by Darren Clarke, who was victorious last time The Open was held at Royal St George’s in 2011 - while Rory McIlroy fought hard to finish on level par.
If form is temporary and class is permanent, then perhaps it should be no surprise that these Champion Golfers of the Year are showing their quality again.