Fans make welcome return as The Open gets underway at Sandwich

Fans make a welcome return to the fairways as 149th Open Championship gets underway at Sandwich in Kent with 32,000 allowed in each day for delayed Major with big guns Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau due out later

  • Richard Bland was first to tee off at the delayed Major at 6.35am on Thursday
  • Last year’s Open Championship at Sandwich was postponed due to Covid-19
  • But glorious sunshine greeted the early starters on the links course in Kent
  • Up to 32,000 spectators will be admitted each day with Open a pilot event 
  • Shane Lowry begins his long-awaited defence of 2019 title at 9.58am 
  • Rory McIlroy tees off at 3.21pm with Spieth and DeChambeau off at 9.25am 

The 149th Open Championship is underway at Royal St George’s with spectators making a welcome return to the fairways.

Up to 32,000 fans per day will be admitted to the course in Sandwich, Kent and the Major started in glorious sunshine early on Thursday morning.

Covid-19 forced a postponement 12 months ago, creating even more of a sense of anticipation when Richard Bland was the first to tee off on the links at 6.35am.

A packed grandstand at Royal St George’s in Kent watch Richard Bland start the first round of the 149th Open Championship at 6.35am on Thursday morning 

Bland plays the first shot of the Major, which didn’t take place last year because of Covid-19

Up to 32,000 spectators will be at Sandwich each day with the Major designated a pilot event

Bland, 48, who became the oldest first-time winner of a European Tour event with victory at the Betfred British Masters, his 478th event, saw his opening drive go slightly left in the breeze. He was ultimately disappointed to see his 14ft birdie putt grace the edge of the hole.

That left Andy Sullivan as the first to take advantage of favourable conditions by holing a 25ft birdie putt at the first.

Marcus Armitage, another maiden winner in June with his victory at the Porsche European Open, completed the all-English three-ball first out and settled for par.

Spectators watch on from the fairways as Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger plays a shot 

Daniel Berger of the United States plays from the rough on the fourth hole on Thursday

England’s Ian Poulter was one of the early starters on the opening day of The Open 

Andy Sullivan was one of the early starters to take advantage of favourable conditions 

Shane Lowry’s long wait to defend his 2019 Open title is due to get underway at 9.58am in a marquee group alongside golf’s newest Major winner John Rahm and 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen.

Half an hour before that, 2017 Open winner Jordan Spieth heads out alongside last year’s US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and South Africa’s Branden Grace.

Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, who won this even in 2014, goes out at 3.21pm with American Ryder Cup rival Patrick Reed and Australian Cameron Smith.

Fans make a welcome return with The Open this week forming part of the government’s Events Research Programme, permitting a greater attendance than the 10,000 otherwise allowed at outdoor events.

Both the 156 players and spectators have to abide by strict Covid protocols despite the lifting of most restrictions in England being imminent.

DeChambeau found himself in the knee-high grass during practice, hacking out huge clumps

The players have to be in bubbles of no more than four and must stay in approved hotels or accommodation. They’re not allowed to visit bars, restaurants or even supermarkets during their stay at risk of disqualification.

All spectators need to show proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test to gain access.

The Open and R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: ‘The spectators are here as part of a research programme for the government and the government will be monitoring all that,’ added Slumbers.

‘They’re actually trying to very responsibly understand with these big events how Covid does transmit outside, in 500, 600 acres of land and wind blowing and they’re monitoring that.

‘But I think it’s probably inevitable that we will have some problems and we understand that, so does government, so does Public Health [England], and we’ll work through that.

‘We mustn’t forget we are staging a major event still in the middle of a global pandemic.’

STARS LINE UP TO CRITICISE ROYAL ST GEORGE’S COURSE

The start of the Open has not been without controversy with stars queuing up to criticise the course at Royal St George’s.

There have been grumbles about ‘unfair’ bumpy fairways, blind tee shots and ‘diabolical’ thick rough.

American Brooks Koepka, one of the favourites to win, was dismissive of the course.

‘I’ve only played the front nine,’ he said, with a bored expression. ‘I don’t know, it’s not my favourite venue. There’s quite a few blind shots and quite a few where you’re hitting to nothing. 

Brooks Koepka is the latest golfer to voice his displeasure at Royal St George’s in Sandwich

The 149th Open will be played at the venue, which is not one of the favourites with star golfers

‘I’m not too big a fan of that. It’s not like St Andrews or Portrush last time. They are my two favourites.’

Greg Norman, the 1993 champion, said: ‘It’s not just the blind shots, it’s the all-round quirkiness and the fact that all the nuances are so pronounced.

‘It’s not like the other venues where if you catch one of the humps in the middle of the fairway it will either throw the ball forward or back. 

‘At Sandwich the ball always seem to get propelled either left or right and it really is in the lap of the gods where it will end up after that.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood got a taste of the thick fescue rough during practice here

Rory McIlroy is not a fan and previously said he would prefer to play at St Andrews

‘Take the first hole. If you get a right to left wind and catch the camber in the middle of the fairway, you can end up in the thick rough. That’s just the first.’

Rory McIlroy was another who was not a fan. ‘Can’t we just skip St George’s and go straight to St Andrews,’ he quipped on a podcast last year, after the Open had been cancelled.

Yet he turned up last weekend and, after 27 holes, was pleasantly surprised. ‘Even before all the rain, the course was quite lush and green and we weren’t seeing the bounces that we’re accustomed to getting here,’ he said.

‘I walked away after the weekend thinking this is a much better golf course than I remember.’

There is also plenty of ‘diabolical hay,’ as Bryson DeChambeau calls it, to catch not only tee shots that are poorly struck but those that catch an unlucky bounce.

THE OPEN: TEE TIMES AND ODDS 

Thursday’s tee times

6:35am: Marcus Armitage (Eng), Richard Bland (Eng), Andy Sullivan (Eng)

6:46am: Justin Harding (SA), Chan Kim (US), Haotong Li (Chn)

6:57am: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa), Abel Gallegos (Arg)*, Michael Lorenzo-Vera (Fra)

7:08am: Richard Mansell (Eng), Alexander Noren (Swe), JC Ritchie (SA)

7:19am: Dean Burmester (SA), Laird Shepherd (Eng)*, Danny Willett (Eng)

7:30am: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (SA), Sam Horsfield (Eng), Min-Woo Lee (Aus)

7:41am: Viktor Hovland (Nor), Ryan Palmer (US), Thomas Detry (Bel)

7:52am: Abraham Ancer (Mex), Paul Casey (Eng), Ian Poulter (Eng)

8:03am: Garrick Higgo (SA), Brooks Koepka (US), Jason Kokrak (US)

8:14am: Daniel Berger (US), Joel Dahmen (US), Joaquin Niemann (Chi)

8:25am: Darren Clarke (NI), Joe Long (Eng)*, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

8:36am: Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Chris Kirk (US), Jack Senior (Eng)

8:47am: Talor Gooch (US), Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Jonathan Thomson (Eng)

9:03am: Ernie Els (SA), Cole Hammer (US)*, Gary Woodland (US)

9:14am: Sam Burns (US), Jorge Campillo (Spa), Lucas Herbert (Aus)

9:25am: Bryson DeChambeau (US), Branden Grace (SA), Jordan Spieth (US)

9:36am: Brian Harman (US), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Dylan Frittelli (SA)

9:47am: Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Victor Perez (Fra), Kevin Streelman (US)

9:58am: Shane Lowry (Ire), Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Jon Rahm (Spa)

10:09am: Stewart Cink (US), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Lee Westwood (Eng)

10:20am: Dustin Johnson (US), Justin Rose (Eng), Will Zalatoris (US)

10:31am: Sergio Garcia (Spa), Yuxin Lin (Chn)*, Scottie Scheffler (US)

10:42am: Harris English (US), Chez Reavie (US), Erik van Rooyen (SA)

10:53am: Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Lucas Glover (US), Brandt Snedeker (US)

11:04am: Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), Marcel Schneider (Ger), Cameron Tringale (US)

11:15am: Lanto Griffin (US), Rikuya Hoshino (Jpn), Connor Worsdall (Eng)

11:36am: Daniel Croft (Eng), Aaron Rai (Eng), Paul Waring (Eng)

11:47am: Christoffer Bring (Den)*, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Daniel van Tonder (SA)

11:58am: Matthias Schmid (Ger)*, Brendan Steele (US), Harold Varner III (US)

12:09pm: Jaco Ahlers (SA), Troy Merritt (US), Adam Long (US)

12:20pm: Jason Day (Aus), Joost Luiten (Ned), Johannes Veerman (US)

12:31pm: John Catlin (US), Romain Langasque (Fra), Aaron Pike (Aus)

12:42pm: Sam Forgan (Eng), Padraig Harrington (Ire), Brad Kennedy (Aus)

12:53pm: Tony Finau (US), Adam Hadwin (Can), Billy Horschel (US)

1:04pm: Patrick Cantlay (US), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Ryan Fox (NZ)

1:15pm: Marc Leishman (Aus), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Matt Wallace (Eng)

1:26pm: Corey Conners (Can), Collin Morikawa (US), Sebastian Munoz (Col)

1:37pm: Sam Bairstow (Eng)*, Keith Mitchell (US), Jason Scrivener (Aus)

1:48pm: Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Charley Hoffman (US)

2:04pm: Keegan Bradley (US), Rafael Cabrera (Spa), Richard T Lee (Can)

2:15pm: Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Brendon Todd (US)

2:26pm: Russell Henley (US), Shaun Norris (SA), Webb Simpson (US)

2:37pm: Daniel Hillier (NZ), Matt Jones (Aus), Marcel Siem (Ger)

2:48pm: Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Kevin Kisner (US), Phil Mickelson (US)

2:59pm: Rickie Fowler (US), Robert MacIntyre (Sco), Xander Schauffele (US)

3:10pm: Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Adam Scott (Aus), Justin Thomas (US)

3:21pm: Rory McIlroy (NI), Patrick Reed (US), Cameron Smith (Aus)

3:32pm: Max Homa (US), Matt Kuchar (US), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

3:43pm: Ben Hutchinson (Eng), Ryosuke Kinoshita (Jpn), Antoine Rozner (Fra)

3:54pm: Kurt Kitayama (US), Deyen Lawson (Aus), Poom Saksansin (Tha)

4:05pm: Ricardo Celia (Col), Yuki Inamori (Jpn), Jimmy Walker (US)

4:16pm: Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Ryutaro Nagano (Jpn), Nicholas Poppleton (Eng)

The odds 

JON RAHM 8/1

BROOKS KOEPKA 16/1

JORDAN SPIETH 18/1

XANDER SCHAUFFELE 18/1

RORY McILROY 20/1

JUSTIN THOMAS 20/1

DUSTIN JOHNSON 22/1

VIKTOR HOVLAND 30/1

TYRRELL HATTON 30/1

BRYSON DeCHAMBEAU 33/1 

*Denotes amateur player




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