Louis Oosthuizen sets a straight course for Open glory with stunning 64

Four Irish in the field fail to break par at Royal St George’s

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen  speaks with caddie Colin Byrne on the 16th tee during his first round of the  149th  Open Championship at Royal St George’s. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen speaks with caddie Colin Byrne on the 16th tee during his first round of the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

 

The figures back it up, without any argument. For a player of Louis Oosthuizen’s talent, mentally and physically, his coolness under pressure and his exquisite shot-making, a career haul of one Major title – a Claret Jug engraved with his name all of 11 years ago – would seem poor reward.

Yet, almost inevitably, the South African put himself to the fore of adding a second with a stunning opening round 64, six under par, that gave him the first-round lead in the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

Early days, for sure, but he has grabbed a head start on the Kent coast. Having flirted with success at the US PGA in May (tied-second) and again at the US Open (runner-up), Oosthuizen – rather predictably – got straight down to the task at hand, his bogey-free round earning him a one-stroke lead over Americans Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman.

“Probably in my mind the perfect round I could have played,” added Oosthuizen, not a man you’d normally associate with any hyperbole.

On a dry day with a wind that gathered strength so that the later starters got the tougher conditions, the fairness of the examination was reflected in no fewer than 47 players signing for sub-par rounds.

Unfortunately, not one of the four Irishmen in the field managed to get among that lot, with Rory McIlroy’s hard-earned level-par 70 going closest. Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke each signed for 71s, while Pádraig Harrington opened with a double-bogey and closed with a bogey in his adventurous 72.

Many players thrived in the demands of showcasing their creativity on a links buffeted by a northerly wind, but others – most notably US PGA champion Phil Mickelson – struggled. In Mickelson’s case, a round of 80 only affirmed how tough he had found his day.

Others had their moments, though. In fact, there were no fewer than three hole-outs for eagle twos, with Brandt Snedeker (on the 17th) and Will Zalatoris and Ryutaro Nagano (each on the 12th) enjoying not having to reach for their putters on the green.

Rory McIlroy fails to catch his club after throwing it in the air on the 15th fairway during his first round. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images
Rory McIlroy fails to catch his club after throwing it in the air on the 15th fairway during his first round. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Oosthuizen’s improved putting – going from 50th last season to number one on the PGA Tour statistics this year – has led to an increased consistency and a position where, time after time, he has contended in the biggest tournaments this season. Yet, getting over the winning line has proven just a step too far, and his last win anywhere came in the 2018 South African Open.

Of the challenge presented by the links, which he dealt with admirably, Oosthuizen observed: “I think number one, on this golf course, it’s hit the fairway. You’re not going to be able to do much from the rough here or the fairway bunkers. Coming into this week driving the ball good is key. If you aren’t comfortable with a driver around this golf course, then don’t be scared laying further back, as long as you can get in the fairway.”

And Oosthuizen also praised his veteran Irish caddie, Colin Byrne. Of the Dubliner, who joined his team earlier this year, the South African world number 13 said: “Colin has been great on the bag. He’s got so much experience and helps me to be focused on what I want to do and take the shot on, the shot that I see. I think out here in windy conditions like this, you need to go on what you feel the whole time. It is difficult for the caddie to see what you think you want to do, so it’s great that he gives me a lot of confidence in trying to play the shot I want to play.”

That point which Oosthuizen made about the need for a trusty driver resonated with others. Bryson DeChambeau, for instance, simply made the point that his “sucks” at the moment after discovering the power game strategy was not entirely suited to such a links.

For Lowry, too, the fact that he quick-stepped his way to the range post-round to work with coach Neil Manchip told the story of where his problems lay. For his troubles, Lowry, the defending champion, had Oosthuizen’s sublime play as an up-close reminder of his own failings.

“I played pretty average. I didn’t play my best golf,” said Lowry, who was disappointed to bogey the last after overcoming a bogey-bogey start that had put him on the back foot from the off.

“I need to hit the ball in play better, especially with my driver. I didn’t hit many fairways with my driver. I did hit quite a few 3-irons off the tees and I hit fairways, but you need to drive the ball in play. Playing this course out of the rough is not the place to be,” he added.

For Lowry – and, indeed, the other three Irish players – the task will be to survive the cut. As for chasing Oosthuizen? That’s work for another day.

Leaderboard

British and Irish unless stated, par 70:

64 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)

65 Brian Harman (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA)

66 Stewart Cink (USA), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Webb Simpson (USA), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa)

67 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Harding (Rsa), Collin Morikawa (USA), Justin Rose, Scottie Scheffler (USA), Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Jack Senior, Marcel Siem (Ger)

68 Jaco Ahlers (Rsa), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Paul Casey, Corey Conners (Can), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Dustin Johnson (USA), Chris Kirk (USA), Keith Mitchell (USA), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Daniel van Tonder (Rsa)

69 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Marcus Armitage, Joel Dahmen (USA), Rickie Fowler (USA), Talor Gooch (USA), Lanto Griffin (USA), Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Brooks Koepka (USA), Yuxin Lin (Chn), Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Xander Schauffele (USA), Cameron Smith (Aus), Cameron Tringale (USA), Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Will Zalatoris (USA)

70 Daniel Berger (USA), Richard Bland, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Rafael Cabrera (Esp), Tony Finau (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Russell Henley (USA), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Max Homa (USA), Billy Horschel (USA), Jazz Janewattananond Tha), Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), Chan Kim (USA), Kevin Kisner (USA), Jason Kokrak (USA), Rory McIlroy, Ryutaro Nagano (Jpn), Victor Perez (Fra), Aaron Rai, Antoine Rozner (Fra), Kevin Streelman (USA), Harold Varner III (USA), Johannes Veerman (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Matt Wallace, Sam Horsfield

71 Keegan Bradley (USA), Sam Burns (USA), Darren Clarke, Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Brad Kennedy (Aus), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Shane Lowry, Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Jon Rahm (Esp), J. C. Ritchie (Rsa), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jonathan Thomson, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

72 Christoffer Bring (Den), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Ricardo Celia (Col), Ernie Els (Rsa), Branden Grace (Rsa), Pádraig Harrington, Tyrrell Hatton, Daniel Hillier (Nzl), Charley Hoffman (USA), Matt Jones (Aus), Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Ryosuke Kinoshita (Jpn), Robert MacIntyre, Richard Mansell, Shaun Norris (Rsa), Ryan Palmer (USA), Ian Poulter, Chez Reavie (USA), Patrick Reed (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), Brendon Todd (USA), Paul Waring, Adam Long (USA), Thomas Detry (Bel)

73 Sam Forgan, Abel Gallegos (Arg), Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Joe Long, Troy Merritt (USA), Sebastian Munoz (Col), Poom Saksansin (Tha), Marcel Schneider (Ger), Adam Scott (Aus), Jason Scrivener (Aus), Brendan Steele (USA), Gary Woodland (USA)

74 Patrick Cantlay (USA), Rikuya Hoshino (Jpn), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Matt Kuchar (USA), Romain Langasque (Fra), Alexander Noren (Swe), Aaron Pike (Aus), Matthias Schmid (Ger), Laird Shepherd, Min-Woo Lee (Aus)

75 Sam Bairstow, John Catlin (USA), Jason Day (Aus), Harris English (USA), Lucas Glover (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can), Cole Hammer (USA), Yuki Inamori (Jpn), Richard T. Lee (Can), Marc Leishman (Aus), Haotong Li (Chn), Michael Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Nicholas Poppleton

76 Daniel Croft, Joost Luiten (Ned)

77 Ben Hutchinson, Connor Worsdall

80 Deyen Lawson (Aus), Phil Mickelson (USA)

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