2021 British Open takeaways, Round 1: Oosthuizen leads, DeChambeau blames his driver, Morikawa's a sleeper

by 24USATVJuly 15, 2021, 10 p.m. 21
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The first round of the 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George's was everything that was hoped after a lengthy 24-month absence of the oldest tournament in the world. The leaderboard started to take shape with some big stars looking to add to a trove of major championships, but the golf course beat back a bit late in the day and there was drama surrounding a man who cannot seem to stay away from it.

Champions aren't crowned on Thursdays, but the entire vibe of the event is determined by what happens in the first two rounds. And while there have certainly been crazier rounds at Opens in the past, this one was a tremendous first layer underneath what should be a wild next few days.

Let's look at a few of the things that went down in Round 1 and start at the top of the leaderboard with a familiar name in 2021 major championship golf.

1. Louis, again? After finishing T2 at the PGA Championship and solo second at the U.S. Open, it seemed apparent that Louis Oosthuizen would again contend at the final major of the year. We just didn't know how quickly he would hop into contention. Oosty shot a round-of-the-day (and bogey-free) 64 that leads Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman by one each, and it was his iron play (78% of greens in regulation) that again carried the day.

We've been here before with Oosthuizen -- often, actually -- and it seems as if he's either finally going to add a second major to that 2010 Open Championship or keep adding to the preposterous statistic below. Oosthuizen called his round on Thursday "perfect," and now he's faced with the unenviable task of trying to stave off the thoroughbreds behind him for 54 more holes.

This is how he won in 2010 -- 65 in Round 1, five-stroke lead at the halfway point -- so perhaps that's how it goes again this time. Based on more recent history, though, I'm going to tell the engraver to hold off for just a bit longer.

2. Bryson's driver problems: Where do we begin? Bryson DeChambeau hit 29% of fairways, labored to a 1-over 71 and then pinned the performance on his equipment, not only saying that his driver "sucks" but that it needs to be better at correcting his mis-hits. Somehow, he's a few shots from being back in the mix here, but as Andy Johnson pointed out, Opens do not set up well for what he does best, mostly because of their unpredictability.

"If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that's great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks," DeChambeau said. "It's not a good face for me, and we're still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits. I'm living on the razor's edge like I've told people for a long time. When I did get it outside of the fairway, like in the first cut … I catch jumpers out of there and I couldn't control my wedges."

The drama intensified after the round when a Cobra rep said DeChambeau "has never really been happy, ever." The entire thing from start to finish (for somebody who shot a mediocre 71!) was incredible to watch unfold.

3. That Spieth quote: As I watched drives and iron shots pitch and bound along on this track so near to the White Cliffs of Dover, I couldn't help but think about the authenticity and purity of links golf. Jordan Spieth, who shot 65 in Round 1 and trails Oosthuizen by just one, touched on this after his round. It made me long for much more links golf than just once or twice a year.

"I think it brings a lot of the feel aspect into the game," said Spieth. "I think I shorten swings up over here and hit more punch shots and just stuff that I probably should be doing at home. … You get less swing-focused and more shot-focused over here because the second you take your brain off of what you're hitting, you may not find your ball.

"Instead of just a driving range shot in Palm Springs, there's always some shot you have to play that gives you a little bit of an advantage or certain club selections based on you hit a fade or a draw; they go 15-20 yards different distances than between which shot you play. I guess to sum that up, there's a lot of external factors over here, and I think that external is where I need to be living."

4. Quiet Brooks: Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka shot a stealthy 69, and it was a minor miracle he kept it under par after how poorly he drove it on the first few holes. The 69 is right on track for him as he tries to make good on his vow that he will be close to the final pairing on Sunday afternoon. Friday will be telling. If we get something 67 or better, it's going to be game on to the finish line.

5. Top 10 importance: In eight of the last 10 Open Championships, the eventual winner has been inside the top 10 after Round 1. In half of them, the eventual winner has either been first or second after the first 18 holes. If the former stat holds up this time around, then your winner will be one of the following:

6. Early-late: The afternoon wave on Thursday had it nearly two shots harder than the morning. Take the 7th hole for example. In the morning, it played under par, but in the afternoon, it played a quarter of a stroke over. The front nine, in particular, flipped on guys. It was over a stroke harder late in the day, which means the late-early crew -- depending what happens on Friday -- might have gotten the bad side of the draw.

Rick Gehman and Kyle Porter break down and react to Thursday's action at the Open Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

7. Morikawa lurking: Remember on Wednesday when the No. 4 player in the world was 40-1 to win a major? He's down to 16-1 after a 67 in Round 1. I keep being told all the reasons he can't win this tournament (never been there, can't work it against certain winds, struggles to get his irons through the harder turf), and I keep thinking about how, you know, the No. 4 player in the world -- and a former major winner -- was 40-1 to win the Open Championship. The worry now is whether he can lag his way around Royal St. George's (he's T97 in approach putt performance on the year), but if he can find a rhythm on the greens, major No. 2 could be on deck.

"Being creative is what I do," said Morikawa. "Being creative, especially with my iron shots, that's what I love to do. I love to work the ball. Love to figure out different heights you have to hit it, see different windows. That what's links golf does and what it tests. I think it fits right into my pocket with that, and hopefully we can continue to stress the things I do well and hopefully just have a great putting week."

8. Rahm's struggle: After a big-time drive on the first hole, it looked like the U.S. Open champion was going to pick up where he left off at Torrey Pines and make it three consecutive birdies at majors. That did not materialize, though, and Rahm went on to make a mess of the 9th, which led to double and an uphill climb on the second nine. Seven back of Oosthuizen and six of Spieth doesn't mean he's out of it, but he needs something special on Friday if he wants to become just the fifth golfer since World War II to win the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same year.

9. Stewart Cink? Are we really going to get two major winners age 48 or older this season? (At least we know Phil Mickelson isn't going to win twice as he shot 80 on Thursday.) Cink, who famously (or infamously?) won in 2009 over Tom Watson, could upend another popular bid from Spieth.

Cink pounded greens in regulation on Thursday, and his description of his plan makes Open Championship golf seem a lot easier than it is in reality.

"Today, I had a few shots that I wouldn't consider to be super high-quality approaches and some of them still found the green," said Cink. "That's mostly due to reasonable planning and just not shooting yourself in the foot. You don't want to take a lot of chances when there is a lot of trouble lurking around the greens, and today, I hit some good shots in there close and some poor shots that ended up on the green and playable and living. That's what we call it. We say we're living. And I felt like I was living all day. Playing out of the good parts of the fairway and from light rough mostly, if I was in the rough. So, all in all, today was really acceptable day."

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