The majors enjoyed a bit of normalcy at Royal St. George’s on Thursday. It felt familiar to see Jordan Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen leading the British Open.
Oosthuizen, who was cheered on by the largest golf crowd since the coronavirus epidemic, saved par from a fairway bunter on the last hole to capture the early lead. Spieth was just one stroke behind Oosthuizen, who made putts that were 2017-style.
“It feels within the ropes, starting from the first tee forward,” Spieth said. His run of four consecutive birdies in round 65 reminded him of his time at Royal Birkdale four years ago when he won the claret trophy.
Oosthuizen has just finished two consecutive runner-up finishes in majors, the PGA Championship as well as the U.S. Open. He is also contending after tying for the lowest round at Royal St. George’s. Christy O’Connor Jr. shot 64 in 1981.
After the South African opened with seven consecutive pars, it didn’t seem like that would be the case. In his nine next holes, he added six more birdies.
Oosthuizen said, “I have learned over the years that patience is the key to success in major championships,” and he hasn’t won one since the British Open at St. Andrews 2010. Since then, there have been six runner up finishes in majors.
Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open champion, slapped his leg in frustration after making a double bogey at No. After taking two shots to clear a pot bunker on the fairway, Rahm shot 9 He scored 71. Bryson de Chambeau scored the same after spending most of his first round in deep grass. He was unable to use his power against Royal St. George’s.
Shane Lowry, who is the 2019 defending champion, also shot 71 in front a crowd of 32,000 people this week. A major has not seen so many people through the gates since Royal Portrush, when Lowry won.
A course with soft fairways and greens, which had recently seen rain, was able to score a lot of good scores.
Halfway through the first round, 14 players had scored 67 or higher. Justin Rose was among them, as were three other Englishmen who were looking to win the oldest golf championship since Nick Faldo’s 1992 victory.
Brian Harman tied for second with Spieth, having made five birdies in his eight first holes and another 65th.
Stewart Cink was the Turnberry 2009 champion. He tied for fourth with Dylan Frittelli, MacKenzie Hughes, and MacKenzie Hughes, after 66s.
Dustin Johnson, top-ranked, hit 14 greens in regulation. He said he was happy with his round of 68 which had him tied for 15th.
Spieth hadn’t won since Birkdale, until he broke his slump at Texas Open in April. After matching his lowest Open score, Spieth looked happy and content. He also scored 65 the first day at Birkdale.
He made reference to the victory as he ran off four consecutive birdies that started at No. 5 and told John Wood, a former caddie who was part of the U.S. television team, that it was exactly like 2017. He was making putts while Wood was watching. Wood was the caddy for Matt Kuchar who was second at Birkdale.
Spieth stated, “Here, I feel for first time since then, I’m at minimum coming in with some form, a little bit of confidence and really my start lines off of the tee.”
The spectators returned and made the day feel more like an Open. This was especially true on the hill that overlooks the par-3 6th hole. It attracted the largest galleries for a day that began with a blue, cloudless sky, but also featured occasional gusts.
The group, which included Cink, Lee Westwood, and Martin Kaymer, hit their tee shots within 6 feet of each other just before noon. One spectator shouted at them, “You three should be professionals!”
Kaymer’s caddie Craig Connolly replied across the green, “You should be an actor.”
Spieth stated, “I feel like the people here are very knowledgeable about this sport,” and that they’re having a blast.