Would you believe it, the nice guys are first, and the bad guys are trailing.
As a sunny, breezy Sandwich gave way to cloudy and muggy conditions, Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth emerged from the pack to claim the lead of the 149th Open Championship.
The 2010 champion shot 64 and the 2017 champion 65, edging them in front on a reasonably easy day for scoring. They did so in front of crowds that looked quite a way short of the pre-advertised 32,000 limit for the returning championship.
Trailing badly are the big-bashing, mutual loathing society of Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. If the much anticipated head-to-head duel takes place this weekend by some happy accident, it’s going to be well up the order sheet.
Slow start, sprint finish
Oosthuizen looked becalmed to start with after seven pars, but when the sun went in Louis found his eye and brightened up.
He birdied three in a row from the eighth, and three more in four holes from the 13th.
“If you do the work prior, and you leave everything out on the course, there’s nothing more you can do,” he said. “I don’t think too much of mistakes I make on the golf course, I focus on moving forward.
“Number one on this golf course is hit the fairway, you won’t do much from the rough or the bunkers. If you’re uncomfortable with the driver don’t be scared laying back when it means you can be on the fairway.”
Spieth was meant to be in a career crisis at the start of this year, but he feels completely back in the groove now. He had four birdies in a row from the fifth, and added two more at 15 and 16.
“The path that I’m on and where I’ve been, I feel good about my chances going forward,” he said. “I feel I’ve been trending the right way and certainly had a chance this year at Augusta.
“I like where I’m at, I was progressing nicely and took a couple of steps back at the US Open, but I’ve gone back, worked on a few things and gone forward to where I was progressing.”
‘A fun, kind of cool and tricky track’
As for Sandwich, he sees similarities to Royal Birkdale where he won in 2017.
“For the most part I’ve come in places I’ve never played before and tried to find something I like about them,” he said. “I’ve come in here and been in a good mood about it.
“I feel this could be a fun, kind of cool and tricky track. I just like it.”
Koepka’s 69 was not disastrous, but a final hole three-putt felt all the more painful. The issue was the slower pace of the greens, which he never seemed to quite find.
He was at least better than rival DeChambeau’s eventful one-over 71, in which he hit just four fairways and seemed to be permanently wading in thigh-high grass.
DeChambeau’s round was typical Bryson – no off-button, no compromise. He simply hit it long and far and took what he was given when it was found, often by spotter marshals far away from the cut grass.
There were no doubles or trebles, as he showed off his considerable strength to muscle the ball at least close to the greens. But five bogeys offset four birdies and one-over was good for just a tie for 62nd with less than half the field finished.
Conditions change for the later starters
The big fear of Open contenders – that the draw will be lopsided and they’ll be on the wrong side of it – looms large after the afternoon wave faced stronger winds.
Only two players in the top 15 – Benjamin Hebert and Webb Simpson, both on -4 – had a later start time.
There were some battling shows from the likes of home favourites Tommy Fleetwood (-3) and Rory McIlroy, who ended a grind of a day with a birdie three at the last to get in at level-par.
Fleetwood had just two bogeys in his 67, and had the best score in the last ten groups of the day.
For Phil Mickelson, however, there was a grim reminder of the vagaries of golf, if he needed them. Less than two months after his PGA Championship triumph at Kiawah Island, he toiled to a 10-over-par 80, finishing with a double bogey at the 18th.
It left him alone in 156th and last place, and declining to speak after finishing.