SANDWICH, United Kingdom: The long-awaited return of the British Open got underway under blue skies at Royal St George's on Thursday as American Brian Harman shot to the top of the leaderboard with five birdies in his opening eight holes.
Englishman Richard Bland fired the first shot of the 149th Open Championship, which was delayed a year by the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 32,000 fans will take to the course in Sandwich, Kent, as Covid-19 restrictions ease in England despite a spike in positive cases.
England's Andy Sullivan and South Africa's Justin Harding posted the early clubhouse lead thanks to three under par rounds of 67.
Former Open champion Jordan Spieth is also in a group two shots off the lead, thanks to four consecutive birdies between the fifth and the eighth holes.
Promising Norwegian Viktor Hovland and Canada's Mackenzie Hughes are also on three under.
Harman got off to a flying start with birdies in his first three holes before gaining two more at the par four fifth and eighth.
By contrast, Shane Lowry's defence of the Claret Jug started in nightmare fashion with bogeys on the opening two holes before the Irishman pulled a shot back at the sixth.
Lowry's playing partner and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, this year's US Open champion, was level par through his first six holes.
Off the course, Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau's ongoing feud has been the talk of the course this week.
Koepka admitted he is no fan of the Royal St George's course, but it did not show as he was two under after 14 holes.
DeChambeau accepted his booming drives off the tee may have to be tempered this week with staying out of the lush rough the key to staying in contention for the weekend.
The world number six has failed to adapt to the links conditions in his three previous British Opens and was two over through the front nine.
Rory McIlroy will begin his quest to end a seven-year major drought as one of the late starters when he tees off at 1421 GMT. -- AFP