Former champions Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth shone in the morning sunshine as the 149th British Open kicked off at Royal St George on Thursday.
South Africa’s Oosthuizen, the 2010 winner, made six birdies in the 64th flawlessly to finish with six birds under par, one shot ahead of the 2017 American Spieth, the champion.
He met Brian Harman, his compatriot, Spieth, with a score of 65, to participate in second place, one behind Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, South African Dylan Fritelli and veteran American Stewart Sink, another former champion.
Oosthuizen, 38, hit his irons beautifully to catch three birds around the turn and added another three in the closed holes to start strong in his bid for a second major title.
“Maybe I had in mind the perfect round that I could have played,” he told reporters. “I didn’t make a lot of mistakes. When I have good birdie chances, I take the hits. So yeah, just a very good solid run.”
Spieth made four birds in a row off the fifth hole and sunk a 12-foot shot into 16th in the green to crown a brilliant run and confirm the 27-year-old’s return to form having finished 2020 ranked 82nd in the world.
England’s Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan and Jack Senior got 67 cards, along with South Africa’s Justin Harding, American Scotty Scheffler and South Korea’s Ann Byung-hun.
The 2020 tournament has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as many as 32,000 fans are allowed each day this year as part of a government testing event and the links course has been applauded.
“The World Open is a very special place, a very special tournament for everyone,” Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, told reporters.
“To be able to clap on every tee, every green makes a huge difference in this game and it was great to get them back.”
It was a tough day for 2020 US Open champion Bryson Dechambaut, who fought in the round of 71.
The long-stroke American visited the treacherous rough spot on several occasions and made three phantoms on the front nine to fall back into one.
DeChambeau seemed to have worked on the undulating fairways when he collected three consecutive twelfth birders, but two more shots left him out of his pace.
World number one Dustin Johnson started with a strong 68 and defending champion Shane Lowry of Ireland had 71 playing cards with Oosthuizen and US Open champion John Ram, who narrowly spoiled the 71 for ninth.
Four-time Main Champion Rory McIlroy, winner of the British Open in 2014, was among the latecomers along with PGA Champion Phil Mickelson.
Richard Bland was given the honor of taking the opening shot of the tournament, and the Englishman, who won his first European PGA Tour title of the season at the 478th attempt, took his lead straight down the aisle.
“It was very special and very nerve-wracking,” Bland told reporters. “That’s what it’s all about. The nerves improved quite a bit and I was happy to hit one in fairway.”