Louis Oosthuizen leads the Open after the first round

Credit: AFP

Certainly these packed galleries made a huge and welcome difference to one man and his doubly-vaccinated dog. Since 2019, the country had waited for big-time golf boasting a big-crowd feel and the first day of the 149th Open Championship let nobody down. 

Yes, the traffic jams were awful, the beer was overpriced and underchilled and it took an age for the fans to find either a seat in the grandstands or the Portakabin. Ye those inconveniences only elevated the sense that the good times were back.  You only truly know you are somewhere worth being, if it was a royal pain to get in there.

At 6.35am, the grandstand behind the first tee was all but full and they were four deep to the left and right. Richard Bland was handed the honour of hitting the first shot in an Open since Shane Lowry’s winning putt at Royal Portrush 720 days before. 

In May, the 48-year-old, on his 478th European Tour start, finally won a title – the British Masters, no less – but there was nobody at the Belfry to acknowledge his career highlight. This was essentially his opportunity to hear the cheers.  “It was very special and very nerve-racking,” Bland said. 

“When the starter announced my name it all cranked up and I thought ‘this is what it is all about’. I was glad to get one down the fairway. The support was awesome, especially at that time. You could almost touch the anticipation.”

Richard Bland got the first round under way

Credit: PA

If anything the players were happier than the fans. The multi-millionaires on the PGA Tour have been roared on by crowds for a while which too often believe “get in the hole” to be somehow acceptable.  Those such as Ian Poulter have craved the more erudite support of these shores.

“I haven’t heard one yell of ‘mashed potato’ all week and honestly it’s been heaven,” the Englishman said after his 72. “The claps from a UK crowd are a different sound to the US. They are so much more knowledgeable. They know that sometimes a shot to 30 feet is as good as a shot to four feet, depending on its difficulty, and so they applaud appropriately. God, we’ve missed it. The fans and their golf intelligence is one of the best things of The Open.”

It was not only a patriotic Englishman saying this, but America’s darling himself and after a week which started with English crowds in other sports bringing shame upon their flag, it was heart-warming to hear praise from overseas. 

“The fans are fantastic here – they’re just the best in golf,” Jordan Spieth said, following his 65. “Very knowledgeable. You always know where your ball is even if it’s a blind shot. It’s really great to have them back and have what felt like normality when we teed off on the first. 

“In America, everyone wants every shot to be really, really close, and, plainly, so do we.  Over here, they’re crazy well-informed. Yeah, our fans are great, but over here the giant grandstands know when we have hit a shot that we should be proud of – and when we should be frustrated.”

Not to say it has been all been smiles and backslaps to the R&A. The players and their entourages are still baffled at how they could be amidst 32,000 doing what they like, whilst they are in a strict bubble. And the fact that some are playing £400-plus per night at The Bell Hotel in Sandwich and it does not have Sky Sports so they cannot even watch the golf in their seclusion has only intensified the exasperation. Yet the crowds have made it worthwhile.  

“Not a single ‘you da man!’” Poulter said. “Absolute bliss.”

When does it start? 

The first round began on Thursday 15 July and the final round is on Sunday 18 July. 

Dustin Johnson during a practice round at Royal St George's

Credit: Getty Images

What TV channel is it on?

Sky Sports Golf and Sky Sports Main Event now have exclusive live coverage of The Open. Coverage begins on Thursday at 6.30am and lasts until 8.30pm. Alternatively, you can bookmark this page and return to follow all the action on our dedicated live blog with Daniel Zeqiri. 

What do we know about Royal St George’s? 

A classical links on England’s south east coast, St George’s most distinctive feature is the rolling undulations of the fairways, which can kick a seemingly good drive into trouble. It also features a number of blind shots, in contrast to venues such as Royal Birkdale which are very much all in front of the player. 

James Bond author Ian Fleming was one of the club’s famous members. 

The course will measure 7,189 yards and play as a par 70 for the tournament. 

The greatest walk in golf is ready for the greatest players in golf ⛳️ #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/D3Qxiyz5sP

— The Open (@TheOpen) July 11, 2021

What is the weather forecast? 

The last few weeks have seen plenty of rain leaving the course looking quite lush and green by the standards of summer. 

Some more light rain is expected on Monday and Tuesday but the forecast is set fair for the rest of the week with temperatures in the low 20s and only a moderate breeze. 

What is the latest with withdrawals? 

The field took two hits this weekend as Masters champions Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson withdrew.

Matsuyama, who tested positive for COVID-19 after the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 2, won’t travel due to United Kingdom health protocols.

The reigning Masters champ has remained quarantined since and hasn’t shown symptoms, but continues to test positive on PCR tests.

Please read… pic.twitter.com/ryN6tDL2TU

— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) July 11, 2021

"I’m feeling fine but haven’t been able to practice in preparation for The Open," said Matsuyama in a statement. "Combining that with the difficult travel to the UK, my team and I have decided it’s best to withdraw to ensure everyone’s safety."

Matsuyama will focus on the Tokyo Olympics, which begins its golf competition on July 29.

Watson, a two-time Masters winner, withdrew after having direct contact with someone who tested positive.

"While I am vaccinated and have passed the required pre-travel Covid test, not enough time has passed for me to comfortably join the charter flight and risk exposure to the other players and personnel on board," explained Watson.

They’ll be replaced in the field with Americans Harold Varner III and Brendan Steele. Two more Americans, John Catlin and Adam Long, are now the first and second alternates.

What are our writers saying? 

You can read James Corrigan’s interview with Darren Clarke, who reflected on his 2011 win at St George’s: 

“That week I was so calm and collected, was just fully accepting. Wherever the ball finished it didn’t bother me. God, I wish I could have bottled that feeling. The weather was rough, suited me down to the ground, and I was that unflustered I didn’t look at a leaderboard until the 16th green and I was four clear – so it was only a case of not buggering it up. 

“I was actually working with two psychologists at that time – Rotella and Mike Finnigan – and I guess that’s another first. But when your mind gets as messed up as my mind, then needs must. Whatever help you can get and whatever direction it comes from. I’m not proud.”

Who are the leading contenders?

Jon Rahm: Won the US Open in style at Torrey Pines last month, is the world’s in form player and has a solid links record. Was in good position at Royal Portrush two years ago but faded with a final round 75 to finish T11 but does have two Irish Open wins on his CV at seaside courses. 

Louis Oosthuizen: Finished second at the US Open and USPGA this season and is becoming a major specialist. Won his Open at St Andrews in 2010 but perhaps does not convert as many opportunities as he should.

Rory McIlroy: Still searching for consistency in his long game but there were good signs with a T7 finish at the US Open. Open winner in 2014 and a greener, more receptive course should be up his alley with no serious breeze. 

Jordan Spieth: Produced a memorable run of birdies to win this at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and has been much improved in 2021, finishing third at the Masters but failing to contend at the USPGA and US Open. 

Brooks Koepka: After an injury ravaged year there have been signs of Koepka getting back to top form at the majors with consecutive top five finishes at Kiawah Island and Torrey Pines. T4 and T6 finishes at The Open in 2019 and 2017 with Northern Irishman Ricky Elliott on the bag. 

Brooks Koepka has been back to something like his best

Credit: PA

Justin Thomas: When he is hot, he is red hot but Thomas has not had his best golf for a while. Without a top 10 since winning the Players Championship in March and wayward driving could well prove his downfall. Missed two of four cuts at The Open. 

Xander Schauffele: The bridesmaid at so many majors in recent years with no real weaknesses, apart from his ability to get across the winning line perhaps.T2 at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. 

Dustin Johnson: Contended here in 2011 before spraying his second to the treacherous par five 14th out of bounds. Johnson’s class is undoubted but it has been a poor year with no top 10 since February. 

Bryson DeChambeau: The big hitter has a miserable Open record, missing two cuts and finishing T52 on three appearances. Will have new caddie Brian Zeigler on the bag. 

Viktor Hovland: Was in sensational form in the early months of the year, and heads into his first Open appearance in good spirits after winning in Germany last month. Can he adapt to the challenges of links golf?

What are the tee times?

There is a one-tee start at The Open which means all competitors start on the first, rather than the field being split between first and 10th as is the case at the US Open and USPGA Championship. 

It means tee times run throughout the day during the first two rounds. The early starters will tee off at around 6.30am with the last group going off at around 4pm. Players who start early on Thursday will be late on Friday and vica versa. 

With the weather fickle at the British seaside, this can mean there is some luck involved in being on the right side of the draw. 

FRIDAY/Second round

6.35 am — Aaron RAI, Paul WARING, Daniel CROFT
6.46 am — Daniel VAN TONDER, Jazz JANEWATTANANOND, Christoffer BRING (a)
6.57 am — Harold VARNER III, Brendan STEELE, Matthias SCHMID (a)
7.08 am — Troy MERRITT, Adam LONG, Jaco AHLERS
7.19 am — Jason DAY, Joost LUITEN, Johannes VEERMAN
7.30 am — John CATLIN, Romain LANGASQUE, Aaron PIKE,
7.41 am — Padraig HARRINGTON, Brad KENNEDY, Sam FORGAN
7.52 am — Tony FINAU, Billy HORSCHEL, Adam HADWIN
8.03 am — Patrick CANTLAY, Matthew FITZPATRICK, Ryan FOX
8.14 am — Francesco MOLINARI, Marc LEISHMAN, Matt WALLACE
8.25 am — Collin MORIKAWA, Corey CONNERS, Sebastian MUNOZ
8.36 am — Jason SCRIVENER, Keith MITCHELL, Sam BAIRSTOW (a)
8.47 am — Charley HOFFMAN, Emiliano GRILLO, Benjamin HEBERT
9.03 am — Keegan BRADLEY, Richard T LEE, Rafa CABRERA BELLO
9.14 am — Carlos ORTIZ, Brendon TODD, Matthias SCHWAB
9.25 am — Webb SIMPSON, Russell HENLEY, Shaun NORRIS
9.36 am — Matt JONES, Daniel HILLIER, Marcel SIEM
9.47 am — Phil MICKELSON, Tyrrell HATTON, Kevin KISNER
9.58 am — Xander SCHAUFFELE, Robert MACINTYRE, Rickie FOWLER
10.09 am — Justin THOMAS, Tommy FLEETWOOD, Adam SCOTT
10.20 am — Rory MCILROY, Patrick REED, Cameron SMITH
10.31 am — Henrik STENSON, Max HOMA, Matt KUCHAR
10.42 am — Antoine ROZNER, Ryosuke KINOSHITA, Ben HUTCHINSON
10.53 am — Kurt KITAYAMA, Deyen LAWSON, Poom SAKSANSIN
11.04 am — Yuki INAMORI, Jimmy WALKER, Ricardo CELIA
11.15 am — Rikard KARLBERG, Ryutaro NAGANO, Nicholas POPPLETON
11.36 am — Richard BLAND, Andy SULLIVAN, Marcus ARMITAGE
11.47 am — Chan KIM, Justin HARDING, Haotong LI
12.09 pm — Alex NOREN, JC RITCHIE, Richard MANSELL
12.20 pm — Dean BURMESTER, Danny WILLETT, Laird SHEPHERD (a)
12.31 pm — Christiaan BEZUIDENHOUT, Sam HORSFIELD, Min Woo LEE
12.42 pm — Viktor HOVLAND, Ryan PALMER, Thomas DETRY
12.53 pm — Paul CASEY, Abraham ANCER, Ian POULTER
1.04 pm — Brooks KOEPKA, Jason KOKRAK, Garrick HIGGO
1.15 pm — Daniel BERGER, Joaquin NIEMANN, Joel DAHMEN
1.26 pm — Darren CLARKE, Bernd WIESBERGER, Joe LONG (a)
1.37 pm — Chris KIRK, Marcus KINHULT, Jack SENIOR
1.48 pm — Talor GOOCH, CT PAN, Jonathan THOMSON
2.04 pm — Ernie ELS, Gary WOODLAND, Cole HAMMER (a)
2.15 pm — Sam BURNS, Lucas HERBERT, Jorge CAMPILLO
2.26 pm — Jordan SPIETH, Bryson DECHAMBEAU, Branden GRACE
2.37 pm — Brian HARMAN, Mackenzie HUGHES, Dylan FRITTELLI
2.48 pm — Victor PEREZ, Kevin STREELMAN, Guido MIGLIOZZI
2.59 pm — Shane LOWRY, Jon RAHM, Louis OOSTHUIZEN
3.10 pm — Stewart CINK, Lee WESTWOOD, Martin KAYMER
3.21 pm — Dustin JOHNSON, Will ZALATORIS, Justin ROSE
3.32 pm — Scottie SCHEFFLER, Sergio GARCIA, Yuxin LIN (a)
3.43 pm — Harris ENGLISH, Erik VAN ROOYEN, Chez REAVIE
3.54 pm — Lucas GLOVER, Byeong Hun AN, Brandt SNEDEKER
4.05 pm — Cameron TRINGALE, Takumi KANAYA, Marcel SCHNEIDER
4.16 pm — Lanto GRIFFIN, Rikuya HOSHINO, Connor WORSDALL