Louis Oosthuizen continued his fine major Championship form this season with an electric 64 to take the overnight lead after day one of The 149th Open.
The South African, who is seeking a second Claret Jug to go alongside his runaway win in 2010, hit six birdies in a bogey-free round at Royal St George’s and tops the leaderboard on -6, one clear of Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman.
Oosthuizen, who finished tied for second at May’s PGA Championship and second outright at last month’s U.S. Open, upstaged playing partners Jon Rahm and reigning Champion Golfer Shane Lowry, who both battled to +1 scores of 71 and have work to do get back into contention on Friday.
Meanwhile, the omens are good for second-placed Spieth. The only other occasion the three-time major winner has shot 65 in the first round of The Open, he ended up winning in 2017 and he looked back to his brilliant best around the Sandwich links.
There are a group of five players on -4, including 2009 Champion Golfer Stewart Cink, while Andy Sullivan, Justin Rose, Jack Senior, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood are the leading Englishmen on -3.
Scoring was impressively low in the morning but the afternoon starters were on the wrong side of Royal St George’s notoriously strong winds, making Fleetwood’s effort all the more impressive.
The 2019 runner-up birdied the last to finish with a 67, while Rory McIlroy also closed with a three to get back to level-par for the Championship.
The 2014 Champion started with a birdie but had to battle the elements for much of his round and did well to finish with a 70.
OOSTHUIZEN OOZES CLASS
Much of the attention was understandably on Rahm and Lowry at the beginning of this super group’s round.
Lowry is the defending Champion and clearly revelled in the moment when his name was called on the first tee, a warm smile spread across his face. He was given a rapturous reception but his expression soon turned to anguish as his opening tee shot found the right rough. Bogeys at both the first and second holes followed but he battled hard to get round in 71.
Rahm, meanwhile, won his first major title at the U.S. Open last month – narrowly beating Oosthuizen – and is arguably the best player in the world on current form. But he struggled on Royal St George’s tough layout, with a double bogey on the ninth not helping his cause. A birdie on 18 saw him match Lowry, but they were both left trailing by Oosthuizen.
The 38-year-old started with seven straight pars, missing out on birdies at the popular par-3 sixth and the first of the two par-5s on seven. But his putter warmed up on the eighth with a birdie and two more followed at nine and 10.
Darren Clarke suggested the player most consistent off the tee is the man to beat this week, nodding towards the perilous rough on either side of the fairway, and it says a lot for Oosthuizen’s driving that he did not drop a single shot.
His iron play was also sublime and that helped set up more birdies on 13, 14 and 16, while a par-save on 18 cemented his place at the top.
“(It was) probably in my mind the perfect round I could have played,” said Oosthuizen.
“I did not make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. So yeah, just a very good solid round.”
SPIETH ON THE PROWL
Oosthuizen will insist it’s far too early to think about winning and part of the reason for that is the calibre of players lurking just behind.
Spieth was similarly impressive and responded to an early bogey on the third with four successive birdies between the fifth and eighth holes, while two more at 15 and 16 ended an ominously consistent round.
Harman’s putter was also red-hot on the front nine as he drained five birdies in the first eight holes, while another on 18 saw him join Spieth a stroke back.
Cink, meanwhile, has won twice on the PGA Tour this season and finished T12 at The Masters in April, while he is obviously comfortable on the links. He might be 48 years old but cannot be discounted.
STRONG START FOR HOME CONTINGENT
No English player has won The Open on home territory since Tony Jacklin in 1969 and not anywhere since Sir Nick Faldo’s Muirfield triumph in 1992, and the home contingent thrilled the 32,000 fans in attendance.
Rose provided one of the moments of the day with an incredible recovery from a wayward tee shot on 18 to get home in 67, while Fleetwood battled impressively on the back nine and received one of the loudest cheers of the day when he birdied 18.
Paul Casey also made a strong start and is on -2, while Richard Bland – who had the honour of hitting the first shot of The 149th Open at 6.35am – finished with a level-par 70 in the same group as Sullivan, who carded a 67 for the early clubhouse lead.
BIG NAMES LURK
A total of 47 finished under par for the day and there is a host of quality lurking at -2, including 2018 Champion Golfer Francesco Molinari – who battled the trickier conditions to sign for a 68.
Joining him is Spain’s Sergio Garcia and world number one Dustin Johnson, while four-time major winner Brooks Koepka headlines an equally strong group at -1 that also contains Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris.
Bryson DeChambeau surprisingly took an iron off the first tee but the driver let him down thereafter as he finished on +1, the same score as Lowry, Rahm, Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
It was also tough going for PGA Championship winner and 2013 Champion Golfer Phil Mickelson, who finished on +10.