The two year wait for the return of The Open was worth it

Bernie McGuire

Louis Oosthuizen (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Bernie McGuire

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It would seem appropriate that after golf’s oldest major was cancelled a year ago that the Open Championship should return with three former winners among the leading four players on day one at Royal St. George’s.

South African Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 Open, did not drop a shot in an impressive six-under par 64, teeing-up at Royal St. George’s after finishing runner-up in both this year’s PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2017 Open, continues to build on last April’s Valero Texas Open success to be sharing second place after a five-under par 65 with fellow American Brian Harmon. And after months of listening to obnoxious shouts of ‘Mashed Potatoes’ and ‘In the Hole’, there was a near full house of spectators with Spieth singling out the Sandwich fans for special praise.

“The fans are fantastic here. They’re just the best in golf,” he said. “Very knowledgeable, and you always know where your ball is even if it’s a blind shot. It was really great to have them back and have what feels like normalcy when we teed off on the first hole.”

Five players, among them 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink, share fourth place at four-under par. The rescheduling of the 149th Major began in bright, early-morning sunshine and with England’s Richard ‘Blandy’ Bland teeing-up first at 6.35am to a rousing applause.

Bland admitted he was nearly in tears a week ago when R&A CEO, Martin Slumbers phoned him at the Scottish Open with the offer of teeing-off first and less than a week later the reigning BetFred British Masters champ didn’t disappoint the predominantly English fans in posting an opening level par 70.

“It was a tremendous honour and great for the R&A to put that on me,” he said. “It’s something that I wasn’t expecting at all. Yeah, when Martin called me on Sunday and set about it, yeah, it was a special moment. Yeah, of course very nervous once the announcer sort of started. I was glad to get one down the fairway.”

Finding the Royal St. George’s fairways was the key to any player under par on day one and checking the leaderboard there were just 47 of the 156-players who managed to break par.

Four-time Major-winning Rory McIlroy leads the four man Irish contingent and delivered the biggest crowd roar with the third shot of his round and then a huge cheer also the last shot of his day.  McIlroy had landed a brilliant second shot to just a few feet at the first for birdie and while he had slipped to two-over par through seven holes, the World No. 11 dug deep to birdie 14 and then rewarded those fans who chose to remain by holing out for a closing birdie at around 7.30pm in his score of 70.

Reigning Open champ, Shane Lowry struggled early with back-to-back opening bogeys but the proud Irishman regrouped in signing for an eventual score also of 71.

A decade after capturing the 2011 Open Championship Darren Clarke was chuffed to also sign for a 71 and especially after hitting just eight fairways and singling out a hot putter for his equal best starting round in an Open since winning the Claret Jug. And double Open winning Padraig Harrington could be proud and fighting back from doubling the first hole and then dropping a shot at four to finish with a two-over 72.

“It was disappointing but I hit the ball a lot better than my score, so, yeah, disappointing overall,” he said.

Though one of the biggest stories on the opening day, and for all the wrong reasons, was the war of words between Bryson DeChambeau and Cobra Golf, who provided the American with his 46-inch, 5-degree loft driver. DeChambeau, already feuding with Brooks Koepka, blared that his driver ‘sucks’ after hitting just four fairways with Cobra declaring their star client was acting like an eight-year-old. You can probably fathom Friday’s back page headlines on the tabloids of the world.

And spare a thought for another Open Champion in Phil Mickelson who tamed a windswept links-like Kiawah Island course to become the oldest winner of a major in capturing the PGA Championship. However on a true links course Mickelson was found wanting in sharing last place at 10-over par.

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