Strong home challenge mounted early on at British Open

Darren Clarke returned from Champions Tour stateside to start with one-over-par 71

England’s Danny Willett during day one of the British Open at St George’s. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

England’s Danny Willett during day one of the British Open at St George’s. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

 

Not quite a beast, not by any means, as the St George’s links hardly bared its teeth at all in the opening round of the 149th British Open Championship where a plethora of sub-par scoring was enjoyed by those who set off in the quest for the Claret Jug.

Some, though, did stumble - among them defending champion Shane Lowry early on who suffered back-to-back bogeys in his opening two holes only to steady himself - as if to emphasis that the consistent northerly wind would indeed add to the examination.

And, on the most southerly of all English links on the rota, a strong home challenge was mounted as Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Jack Senior joined South African Justin Harding in posting the early clubhouse leads with rounds of three-under-par 67s.

For Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, his return to form so soon after undergoing surgery for a ruptured appendix only last month was hugely impressive: “Yeah, played well all day really. I put the ball in play, gave ourselves the ability to not have to hack around in the rough too many times,” was Willett’s succinct view of a strong start.

Sullivan, who has been tweaking his swing of late, said: “I felt really quite composed out there today in terms of tee to green, felt good and holed some good footage out there, which is something we’ve been working quite hard on the last few weeks to get better at, and it’s nice to see it coming to fruition on the golf course.”

Jordan Spieth overcame an early bogey on the third to click into gear, picking six birdies - including a run of four in a row from the fifth to turn in 32 - to move to five under on his round through 16 holes into a share of the on-course lead with South African Louis Oosthuizen (through 14 holes).

Darren Clarke, the champion on its last staging at Sandwich in 2011, returned from the Champions Tour stateside to start with a one-over-par 71.

Finding only eight greens in regulation, Clarke used his short game and putter to good effect: “I actually hit the ball pretty nicely but I missed a couple of fairways by two inches and all of a sudden when you’re in that you’re trying to run the ball up or you’re aiming away from flags to not make any stupid mistakes.

“Consequently my stats may have been somewhat misleading today, and frequently that’s what will happen on links golf. But overall I was quite pleased with the way I actually hit the ball and the way I played,” said the Northern Irishman .

Lowry was one-over par on his round through 14 holes while US Open champion Jon Rahm in the same group was two-over. Pádraig Harrington had a horrible start with a double bogey on the opening hole and was three-over through four holes.

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