They gave the 149th Open Championship a familiar feel on Thursday.
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Roars and cheers from the largest crowd of golfers since the pandemic rumbled around this unusual course off Sandwich Bay, just like in pre-COVID times.
For Spieth, it was as welcome as being a candidate for the Open again.
“It feels on the ropes, from the first tee forward, the most normal of any tournament we’ve played so far compared to this same tournament in previous years,” said Spieth.
His Under-65s certainly went back in time to four years ago when he lifted the burgundy jug at Royal Birkdale – the last English venue to host the 149th Open – as he hit the ball better than ever.
Spieth was one shot away from the lead held by Oosthuizen, who saved par from a fairway bunker on No 18 for a 6-under 64. That tied the lowest first round at Royal St. George’s, previously established by Christy O’Connor Jr. in 1981.
This did not appear to be the case after the South African opened with seven consecutive pars. He followed with six birdies in his next nine holes.
“I’ve learned over the years playing major championships that patience is the key,” said Oosthuizen, who has not won any since the St. Andrews Open in 2010. There have been six finalists. in the majors since then, including the last two.
Oosthuizen and Spieth were among the morning starters who took advantage of the better conditions, including soft bounces on the most hilly fairways and greens of the Open rotation.
Yet many of the best in the world have not been able to take advantage of it.
Patience may already be thin for US Open champion Jon Rahm, who slapped his thigh in frustration after making a double bogey at No.9, where he fired two shots to get out of a pot bunker in the fairway. He shot 71, like Bryson DeChambeau, who spent much of his first lap knee-deep in the deep grass after being unable to use his power to overwhelm Royal St. George’s.
2019 winner Shane Lowry also shot 71 in front of a crowd with a daily capacity of 32,000 this week. Since Royal Portrush, where Lowry won, no golf tournament has seen so many spectators walk through the gates.
With last year’s event canceled due to the pandemic, Lowry could finally be announced at an Open as the reigning golf champion.
“It was a very special day for me,” he said.
This was not the case for the majority of the afternoon starters, who encountered more prolonged gusts off the English Channel and slightly drier conditions.
Rory McIlroy birdied the last to recover a 70 in his attempt for his first major title in seven years. Justin Thomas shot 72. Phil Mickelson shot 80, his best start ever at the 149th Open, which left him tied for last place.
Benjamin Hebert and Webb Simpson, with rounds of 66 that tied them for fourth place with three others, had the best scores of the afternoon. Former PGA Champion Collin Morikawa, in his first bond test, and England favorite Tommy Fleetwood were at 67.
Fleetwood would love nothing more than to become the first Englishman to bear his name on this silver jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“It’s been a long time since an Englishman won the Open, and I would love to be next. So we’ll see, ”Fleetwood said.
Brian Harman was tied for second with Spieth after hitting five birdies in his first eight holes and finishing with a 65. Top ranked Dustin Johnson hit 14 greens in regulation and said he was happy with his round of 68 which had tied him for 19th.
Spieth hadn’t won since Birkdale until he ended his slump at the Valero Texas Open in April. He looked the happiest of them all on Thursday, saying he liked where his game was after tying his lowest score in an Open. He also had a 65 on day one at Birkdale.
And he referred to that victory by scoring four straight birdies from No.5, telling former caddy John Wood – who is on the U.S. broadcast team – that it was like 2017, the way he putts and Wood was watching. him. Wood was caddy in the final round at Birkdale for Matt Kuchar, who was second.
“Here I feel for the first time since then, I come at least with a little bit of form, a little bit of confidence and really my starting lines from the start,” said Spieth.
There was only Oosthuizen in front of him. And that wasn’t a real shock, considering the South African tied for the lead in the first and third rounds of the US Open last month and the second round of the PGA Championship in May.
The return of the spectators gave the impression of a real Open, especially on the hill overlooking the 6th par 3 hole which attracted some of the biggest galleries of a day which started with blue and cloudless skies.
Just before noon, the group of Stewart Cink, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer all hit tee shots within 6 feet of the hairpin. As they walked onto the green, a spectator shouted, “You three should be professionals.
To which Kaymer’s younger brother, Craig Connolly, replied from across the green: “You should be a comedian. “
“I feel like the fans here are very familiar with the sport,” said Spieth, “and they’re having a good time too. “