Spectators soaked up the sunshine on another glorious day at Royal St George's as The Open Championship's third round left us poised for a thrilling finale.

On the course it looks set to be a final-day shoot-out between three major champions, with Louis Oosthuizen, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth setting the pace.

Meanwhile, there was plenty happening on the other side of the ropes as fans lapped up the entertainment on offer.

Our man on the ground brings you all the latest after being out and about on the Kent links on Saturday...

CELEBRITY SPOTTING

Big sporting events tend to attract stars from all manner of show business backgrounds, and it seems stand-up comedians are not immune to the allure of a golf major.

As this reporter was roaming alongside the 18th fairway he heard a familiar voice asking where the official Open shop was.

"It's the big building over there with 'the shop' written on it," I said.

"You're very helpful, thank you," replied British comedian Michael McIntyre.

PLAN OF ACTION 

As a spectator at a golf event, you have a multitude of options: pick a spot and make it your own for the day; follow a particular group; or maybe just wander around and see what you see.

One cluster of fans who had only just arrived were gathered around a course map, each apparently with very different ideas about what to do.

In such situations, it takes a leader to sort things out and, luckily for this group, the best man for the job stepped forward.

"Why don't you argue about this from somewhere you can actually see the golf?" he said, ushering the group away from the entrance.

WESTWOOD GRAFTING

Away from the gaze of the cameras and long after his round of 70 had come to a close with a birdie at the 18th, Lee Westwood was putting in the hard yards on the practice range.

The Englishman was one of a handful of players grafting away in the evening sun as, even at the age of 48, he showed every day presents an opportunity to learn and improve.

That's the commitment it takes to succeed!

Louis Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa are relishing a final-day battle at The Open Championship as both men seek to double their major tally.

It is 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year Oosthuizen who holds a narrow advantage, leading by one at 12 under going into the Sunday's round at Royal St George's.

The South African has two runner-up finishes at majors this year, while Morikawa is looking to add to the US PGA Championship title he won in 2020.

Oosthuizen was four shots clear of his rival around the turn but Morikawa finished strongly, with the duo being chased down by the likes of 2017 Claret Jug winner Jordan Spieth (nine under) and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm (seven under).

 

Oosthuizen, whose 69 was one stroke worse than Morikawa's score, was left to rue some missed opportunities but was content to still be at the summit.

"I was minus 13 at a stage," he said. "Probably a good back nine I could have gone to 14 or 15. There was a few very tough pins out there that you can't really go for at all.

"I did have a lot of opportunities to go two or three better, but that's what this golf course can do to you.

"I'm happy with the lead and need to play some good golf tomorrow."

Asked if the prospect of a second Open triumph might keep him awake ahead of the final round, Oosthuizen said visualising success can only be a good thing.

"You need to believe that you can lift the trophy," he explained. "If you think about it beforehand that you might win this championship, I think that's great, and you have to believe you can do it.

"I don't really change my routine whether I've got a two-shot lead or I'm trailing by eight. You know, the only thing that differs is the tee time. 

"I would say just try and keep yourself busy and don't let your mind wander too much."

Meanwhile, Morikawa will draw on his experience from TPC Harding Park, where he won his maiden major by two strokes from Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in August last year.

"I think the biggest thing I can draw from the PGA is just knowing I can get it done," he said.

"But I think confidence just comes from hitting good shots, quality shots, seeing putts go in.

"There is a lot to draw from, especially this week. I don't have much experience on links golf and pretty much all the highlights in my head are from this week.

"Hopefully we can just use that momentum from the first three days and just bring it into the last 18. It's going to be a grueling 18, but I look forward to it.

"It's position you want to be in. As an athlete, golfer, you want to be in this position. I love it, so I really look forward to it."

Louis Oosthuizen will take a one-shot lead into the final round of The Open, where two fellow major winners are his closest rivals.

The 2010 champion will go out in the final group at Royal St George's on Sunday, when he will have 2020 US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa for company.

Oosthuizen, who sits at 12 under and is chasing a wire-to-wire triumph, has had two runner-up finishes in majors this year, taking his career tally to six.

Also in the mix is Jordan Spieth, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2017, but the American's third round finished with back-to-back bogeys to leave him three adrift.

 

Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler, both in search of maiden majors, are poised at eight under.

Pre-tournament favourite and U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm cannot be discounted at seven under, a score matched by Oosthuizen's fellow South African Dylan Frittelli.

Rory McIlroy threatened to get involved at the top end of the leaderboard after making the turn in 31, but three back-nine bogeys ended his hopes, while reigning champion Shane Lowry closed on five under.

It was a day to forget for world number one Dustin Johnson, whose 73 left him eight strokes adrift.

SHOT OF THE DAY

Danny Willett may ultimately have given back the two shots he gained with his hole-out eagle on the par-four 10th, but it was still a glorious shot.

The 2016 Masters champion was six under overall at that point and could scarcely believe what he had done.

CHIPPING IN

Rory McIlroy: "Sort of a tale of two nines. I played great on the front nine, hit some really good iron shots and converted some putts and really got it going. Then the back nine played tough."

Shane Lowry: "I have mixed emotions, to be honest, because I played great. I left a lot of shots out there."

Danny Willett: "It's always a bonus when they go in when you haven't holed a shot for a hell of a long time."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- The 14th was the most generous hole as the par five played at an average of 4.53.

- McIlroy's five birdies was his best return from his first nine holes at an Open.

- Conners hit 92.86 per cent of fairways in his four-under 66.

Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth will each continue their bids for a second Open Championship title amid fierce pressure at Royal St George's on Saturday.

The Kent links was once again bathed in sunshine as the 149th edition of golf's oldest major returned for the third round in Sandwich.

Firmer greens and tougher pin positions made life a little harder but the course still seemed nicely set up for low scoring, with Oosthuizen's 129 the lowest overall tally at the halfway stage of an Open.

The South African slept on a two-shot lead over Collin Morikawa and the 2010 Open champion will tee off alongside the 2020 US PGA Championship winner at 15:55 local time. 

Oosthuizen has been remarkably consistent in majors since his Open triumph 11 years ago, finishing as runner-up an incredible six times.

 

Spieth, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2017 and is eight under, goes out with Oosthuizen's compatriot Dylan Frittelli in the penultimate group.

Rory McIlroy looked to be making a charge when he made the turn in 31, but three bogeys on the back nine meant he signed for a 69 and well out of the picture.

World number one Dustin Johnson will get a couple of holes in before the leader gets his third round up and running, with the American starting four shots back.

With pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm moving to five under overall through three holes, the Spaniard is still in the mix, but reigning champion Shane Lowry's bogey at the fourth left him adrift.

Louis Oosthuizen did not realise he had broken an Open Championship record until he got off the course at Royal St George's on Friday.

The South African carded a 65 to move to 11 under, with his overall score of 129 the lowest after 36 holes at golf's oldest major.

It left the 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year two strokes clear of Collin Morikawa, with Jordan Spieth one stroke further back.

But Oosthuizen, who has finished second in two majors already this year, had no idea he had just made history when he sunk a par putt at the last.

 

"I only heard that when I walked in, so I wasn't aware of what it even was before," he conceded after fine conditions made the Kent links ripe for low scoring, with playing partners Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry shooting 64 and 65 respectively.

"To have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special.

"I think I've played really good the last two days. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course. All of us took advantage of that.

"I think in our three-ball we had a 64 and two 65s, which you don't really see around a links golf course."

The 38-year-old has had a succession of close calls since he claimed the Claret Jug at St Andrews 11 years ago, with a remarkable six runner-up spots in majors.

Asked if there was an issue with getting it over the line, he replied: "I don't know. I think in a few of them I needed to play just that little bit better coming down the stretch.

"It's just I don't think I would have done a lot different in a lot of them.

"Right now I think where my game is at, I just need to put myself in position, and this year is the best I've been putting, and I just need to hit greens and give myself opportunities for birdies."

It was moving day at The Open Championship on Friday but the sunshine refused to budge.

While Louis Oosthuizen recovered the overnight lead that he had lost to Collin Morikawa earlier in the day, a few fans' favourites ensured they will be around at the weekend.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both did enough to make the cut and world number one Dustin Johnson surged up the leaderboard.

But our man on the ground also had an eye on events on the fringes of the action...

BUTTER FINGERS!

When the players walk off the 18th green they pass under the grandstand that surrounds the putting surface.

Above them will often be a gaggle of fans trying to get their attention so they might throw a golf ball their way.

But when that chance comes you have to be ready to take it, and one young fan's hopes were dashed when Tommy Fleetwood tossed a ball within his grasp but he let it slip.

When a marshal picked it up to throw it back to the waiting fans, it was a different young hopeful who managed to seize the opportunity.

MERRY CHRISTMAS?

Lucas Herbert's caddie had fans in a festive mood, despite it being the middle of July.

Nick Pugh sports a bushy white beard and, as he made his way from the 15th green to the 16th tee, one cheeky fan asked if the jovial Scot had received his Christmas list.

Pugh saw the funny side and retorted: "Ho ho ho!"

BEERY ME...

They are not compulsory, but some spectators are choosing to wear face masks in these coronavirus times.

That is all well and good, but it's important to remove your mask before attempting to drink your beer.

One fan probably won't need to learn that lesson again after inducing much mirth following a botched attempt to take a swig from his pint with his face mouth covered.

Louis Oosthuizen holds a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the 149th Open Championship after posting a record 36-hole score at golf's oldest major.

The South African, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2010, continued his stunning form at majors in 2021 with a 65 on Friday, with 129 the lowest total after two rounds at this event.

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa, who had earlier carded a 64 at a sun-drenched Royal St George's, is Oosthuizen's closest rival on nine under, with 2017 winner Jordan Spieth one stroke further back.

Oosthuizen finished in a tie for second at the US PGA Championship in May and was outright runner-up at the U.S. Open the following month. 

He faces stiff competition from a chasing pack that also includes world number one Dustin Johnson following his 65 to move seven under, while Brooks Koepka is on five under.

 

Favourable weather on the Kent coast meant the course was set fair for low scoring and 2020 US PGA Championship winner Morikawa took full advantage.

His round included a run of five birdies in seven holes before a bogey at the 15th – the tricky par four playing at an average of 4.4 – halted his progress.

Oosthuizen did not go out until the afternoon but quickly made his intentions clear with a birdie at the first, though the highlight of his round was an eagle three at the 14th.

Reigning champion Shane Lowry also enjoyed a fine day as he shot 65, while pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm went one better to keep his slim hopes alive.

Rory McIlroy birdied the last to ease any lingering fears of missing the cut, while 2018 champion Francesco Molinari did not make the weekend after a 74 that included a quadruple-bogey seven at the sixth, where he took three shots to get out of a bunker.


SHOT OF THE DAY

There was joy for Englishman Jonathan Thomson as he hit the first ace at the 16th en route to a 67.

CHIPPING IN

Rory McIlroy: "I felt a little nervous going to that 18th tee. I knew I needed a par at least, but birdie to at least be comfortable."

Jonathan Thomson: "The hole-in-one was obviously awesome. It was a real confidence booster after what had been up until that point a real grind."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- Jordan Spieth's halfway score of 132 is the American's second lowest at a major.

- Emiliano Grillo shot a 64, which was six strokes better than his opening round.

- Phil Mickelson improved on his opening effort by eight strokes, but still missed the cut at 12 over.

Collin Morikawa feels has the right mindset to cope with the pressure of majors after he took the lead at the Open on Friday with a fine 64.

The debutant surged up the leaderboard with a tremendous second round, moving to nine under for the tournament.

A stunning card from the 2020 US PGA Championship winner showed just one bogey and he could have even moved further clear had a putt on 18 not skirted the cup.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine early conditions at Royal St George's.

As well as his US PGA win, Morikawa, 24, also has a 2021 top-10 finish to his name at that tournament, as well as coming fourth at the U.S. Open last month.

"Yeah, I look at them as obviously they're starred," he said of his success at majors so early in his career.

"We have four of them a year, and you're trying to definitely win these four because they're that big. 

"Talking about last year's PGA, I had seen every single guy before, I had played with every single guy, and that doesn't make anything different. 

"It's just the stage that we're on, more media, more spectators, more people around. 

"But that's everything outside that I could control. For me, it's just let's go figure out this golf course Monday through Wednesday like I have been the past couple years and figure it out on what I need to do to play well. 

"This style of golf is very different, but playing last week at the Scottish Open helped tremendously."

 

Morikawa posted a 67 in round one but believes his play was similar across the first two days.

"Just sticking to what I've been doing," he said of his Friday success.

"On Thursday I thought I played really well, just wasn't hitting as many fairways. Was able to hit a few more fairways early on in the round this time."

Morikawa ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen, who was joined at six under by fellow South African Daniel van Tonder as well as Emiliano Grillo, Marcel Siem and Jordan Spieth.

A flying start from former champion Spieth, who birdied his first two holes on Friday, meant he was promptly up to seven under and within two of his American compatriot, though he then dropped a shot at the third.

Birdies on 17 and 18 meant Grillo matched Morikawa with a 64, while Siem also gained two shots in the final two holes to sign for an impressive 67.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, all but ensured he will finish above the cut line with a crucial birdie on 18.

The Northern Irishman is level par for the week after a second straight 70. 

In an up-and-down round two, he recovered nicely from consecutive bogeys to start his day but then bogeyed 16 and 17 before improving his position once more at the last.

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa surged into the lead at The Open with a second-round 64 to move to nine under on Friday.

The 2020 US PGA Championship winner's stunning card showed just one bogey as the American ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine conditions at Royal St George's, but he squandered the chance to get to 10 under with a putt on 18 that skirted the cup.

Daniel van Tonder moved level with South African compatriot Oosthuizen following a 66, while Tony Finau signed for the same score to get to four under.

 

Rory McIlroy, who matched Finau's 70 on Thursday, remained at even par through 11, while 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari is unlikely to make the weekend after a 74 left him two over.

Oosthuizen goes out at 14:59 local time alongside reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, both of whom will be looking to improve on rounds of 71.

Jordan Spieth has brought his confidence and his golf ball back under control and the one-time American 'golden child' made the game look easy again on day one of The Open.

Now 27, and only this year truly emerging from a major early-career slump, Spieth is looking the part again and ripe to challenge at Royal St George's.

An opening 65 put Spieth just one behind Louis Oostuizen, a fellow former Open champion, and six ahead of playing partner Bryson DeChambeau.

Spieth was down at 92nd in the world rankings early this year but has shot up to 23rd on the back of form that suggests a fourth major of his career could be just days away.

Asked whether his self-belief and his faith in his golf had wobbled in the four years since his 2017 Open triumph at Royal Birkdale, Spieth did not hesitate to give a frank answer.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's funny you mention that, though, because I look back and I had a chance to win at least one of the majors each year when I felt like I had no idea where the ball was going, which, I guess, could be bad and good.

"But sure. Golf is a game played between the ears, right? When it's not going great, you can certainly lose quite a bit of confidence in it.

"That was the first time I've had to really try to build confidence back up, and it takes time. It's a combination of obviously getting things figured out mechanically but also then putting it to the test and mentally stepping up with enough oomph to go ahead and pull off some shots.

"That's how you build the confidence: using that improvement physically on the course under pressure. By no means do I feel like I'm where I want to be mechanically yet, but this year has been a really, really good progression for me, and all I'm trying to do is just get a little bit better each day."

 

From being a 23-year-old with three majors and comparisons to the game's greats – plus a nickname that he abhored – Spieth did not win again after Birkdale until taking the Texas Open title in April of this year.

He had charged through to the end of 2017 after that Open win, not getting in the mix at the US PGA Championship but still enjoying a couple of second places and picking up 3.5 points as the United States lifted the Presidents Cup.

Relative failure in 2018 meant two third-place finishes and $2,793,536 in prize-money, then only one third place and $2,124,192 came his way the following year.

in the heavily disrupted 2020 campaign, Spieth collected $1,138,146 and failed to finish in the top three once, but his game has majestically come together in the 2021 season, with Spieth already $5,016,964 to the good. As well as his title in Texas, Spieth has snagged three more top-three finishes and four further top-10s.

After four missed cuts in his opening seven events of the season, Spieth has made the weekend at every event since, only finishing outside the top 20 twice in that spell. He tied for third at The Masters in April.

The total haul of eight top-10 finishes for Spieth on the PGA Tour this season is one more than the number he managed in 2017 before arriving in England for The Open.

These are achievements that persuade Spieth something special might be just around the corner – more so than the delicious fact he is playing the opening two rounds with Branden Grace, who also partnered the previous two Open champions on the Thursday and Friday of the 2018 and 2019 championships.

"The path that I'm on and where I've been before in the game, I feel really good about my chances going forward, as good as they have been historically," Spieth said.

"As far as surprised or not, I guess I feel like I've been trending the right way and certainly had a chance this year already at Augusta.

"I made some mistakes in the first round and second round that I shouldn't have made [without which] I very well could have won that golf tournament this year."

And when Spieth says, "I like where I'm at", he could be answering about the setting of this week's tournament, with its thick rough and sloping greens, as well as his form.

"There's been times recently where I've said, 'Man, I just really don't like this place'," he said.

"I came in here and I've been in a really good mood about it. My first walk around it I played 12 holes, played a loop on Sunday, and it was the opposite wind and I still thought, 'Man, this could be a really fun kind of cool, tricky track'."

When Spieth reached the turn in three-under 32 on Thursday, he recalls his thought being, "Hey, we're in the thick of things".

Asked how success at a major might feel now, compared to how it last felt in 2017, Spieth was smart enough not to speculate, though he hopes to soon know the answer.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I would hope to answer that question for you in a few days."

As if to welcome the return of this glorious tournament after two years in the dark, the sun shone brightly on the opening round of the 149th Open Championship.

Royal St George's was initially basked in a warm glow as a crowd of more than 30,000 were treated to a spectacular day of golf at the famous links in Sandwich.

Louis Oosthuizen closed the round top of the leaderboard, but it was the course itself that took centre stage.

And Stats Perform's man on the ground was out and about, taking notes of all the happenings on the other side of the ropes.

SEAVIEW AND FREEVIEW!

There is a large grass mound at the far end of the course that affords a stunning vantage point across the whole links.

A sizeable crowd gathered there from early in the morning, taking in the view from high above the sixth green, with the North Sea glistening in the sunshine away to the east.

But there is another option, with Princes Drive running alongside the course but outside of its perimeter and allowing an unobstructed view of the fifth green, while the sea is a stone's throw away, with plenty of projectiles available on Sandwich Bay's pebble beach.

DINO-SOARING TEMPERATURES

Fancy dress is a common sight at golf tournaments but you should choose your outfit wisely.

The weather forecast in Kent is promising to serve up the best of British summertime over the four days of competition and it made one man's decision to don a dinosaur onesie appear quite ill-judged.

He was to be found roaming the fairway's edge around the seventh hole, and would no doubt soon have been in search of water. Or maybe he was just waiting for Roary McIlroy...

FAN-TASTIC

It was a joy to see so many fans in attendance in Sandwich, with several players commenting on how much it improved the experience for them.

After a prolonged spell of being deprived of such things, Jordan Spieth was among those to welcome the return of crowds to enhance the spectacle.

He said: "I feel like the fans here are very knowledgeable about the sport, and they're also having a great time.

"It's just like at Augusta, it's just a beautiful setting a lot of times, shaping a lot of the holes with people."

Louis Oosthuizen holds the first-round lead at The Open but has Jordan Spieth snapping at his heels in a battle between two former champions.

South African Oosthuizen, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2010, shot a blemish-free 64 to sit one stroke ahead of 2017 winner Spieth, who has Brian Harman for company on five under.

Oosthuizen outshone his playing partners in a headline-grabbing trio featuring reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm.

A host of players are within three shots of the summit at Royal St George's, including major winners Justin Rose and Danny Willett, along with 2009 champion Stewart Cink.

Lowry's hopes of becoming the first player to successfully defend the title at the Sandwich links since Harry Vardon in 1899 suffered a setback following an opening 71, with U.S. Open champion Rahm matching that effort.

 

While Oosthuizen holds a narrow advantage, it is three-time major winner Spieth who has the omens on his side, having been drawn in the same group as Branden Grace.

Oosthuizen's compatriot has featured alongside the eventual winner in the opening two rounds of each of the last two editions of golf's oldest major.

World number one Dustin Johnson is poised to make a move after a two-under-par 68, with Sergio Garcia signing for the same score.

Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut on home soil at Royal Portrush two years ago, closed with a birdie to card an even-par 70.

 

SHOT OF DAY

It was not the most technically brilliant strike of the ball, but the nerves involved in Richard Bland's opening tee shot made it a triumph of coolness under pressure.

The Englishman won his first European Tour title at the 478th attempt at the British Masters in May and had the honour in Kent on Thursday.

He managed to keep the ball on the fairway with a drive that was slightly left, but safe nonetheless.

CHIPPING IN

Louis Oosthuizen: "[That was] probably in my mind the perfect round I could have played. I didn't make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts."

Richard Bland: "It was very special, very nerve-racking. The nerves definitely cranked up a little bit and I was glad to hit one in the fairway." 

Shane Lowry: "It's so good to have the crowds here and it's so good to be playing in the Open Championship like we know. The big grandstands and the big crowds and getting clapped on the grandstands and on the tees, that's pretty cool."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- Louis Oosthuizen's 64 is his lowest score at a major.

- Rory McIlroy started an Open with a birdie for the first time, with this the Northern Irishman's 12th entry into the tournament.

- The 15th hole proved the toughest to tame on Thursday, the par four playing at an average of 4.37.

Louis Oosthuizen will draw on the experience of his many close calls at majors as he seeks to claim a second Open title.

The South African shot a blemish-free 64 at Royal St George's on Thursday to earn the clubhouse lead, with Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman one stroke back.

Oosthuizen has not added to the maiden major he secured at the 2010 Open, with eight top-10 finishes – including two tied-seconds this year – marking him down as a consistent contender.

And the 38-year-old sees his performances at the big events as a reason to be confident in Kent this week, even as fellow former Champion Golfer of the Year Spieth lurks ominously just behind.

"It gives me confidence going into majors knowing that I'm still competing in them and I've still got chances of winning," he said.

"But, yes, once the week starts, I need to get that out of my mind and just focus on every round and every shot.

"But it definitely puts me in a better frame of mind going into the week."

Oosthuizen's round was anchored by a fine showing with the putter, averaging 1.4 putts per greens in regulation.

It is an area of his game that Oosthuizen has put a lot of work into and he was glad to see it paying dividends.

"Most of the work I've done was on routine, going back to a few things that I've done early in my career," he explained.

"Every time I go out and do a bit of work on the putting green to just do the same work and the same drills and the same things and get into a really good routine on practice.

"Now when I get on the golf course, it's paying off for me."

Jordan Spieth staked an early claim for a second Open title with a stunning first-round 65 at Royal St George's.

The three-time major winner, who triumphed at Royal Birkdale in 2017, was in fine form on Thursday as he reached five under to sit one stroke behind fellow former Champion Golfer of the Year Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen was still out on the course.

Spieth has the good fortune to be playing alongside Branden Grace, who has featured with the eventual winner in the opening two rounds of the previous two Opens.

The South African teed off in a group with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018, before playing alongside Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush a year later.

Spieth's showing put him two ahead of the next-best clubhouse score, with four players on three under.

 

Reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm both faced an uphill battle to get involved in the race for the Claret Jug.

Irishman lowry was one over through 16, with U.S. Open champion Rahm one stroke further back at the same stage.

Rory McIlroy tees off at 15:21 local time with the hotly tipped Patrick Reed for company.

The 149th Open Championship got under way at Royal St George's on Thursday, with Jon Rahm the hot favourite to prevail.

Englishman Richard Bland, who won his first European Tour title on his 478th start at the British Open in May, had the honour of teeing off proceedings at 06:35 local time at the Kent links, which is hosting for the 15th time.

Rahm claimed his maiden major with victory at this year's U.S. Open and will attempt to wrestle the Claret Jug from the grasp of playing partner Shane Lowry, with 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year Louis Oosthuizen completing a trio that tees off at 09:58.

Lowry, who is aiming to become the first player to successfully defend the prize at this course since Harry Vardon in 1899, proved a popular winner at Royal Portrush two years ago, with the 2020 event having been cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spaniard Rahm is eyeing a rare double, with only six players having won the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same year.

The omens bode well for the in-form Jordan Spieth after he was drawn alongside Bryson DeChambeau and good-luck charm Branden Grace.

Grace has played with the eventual winner in his first two rounds at each of the previous two Opens.

The South African featured with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018 and Lowry in Northern Ireland the following year. 

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy will head out in the afternoon with Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith, while world number one Dustin Johnson starts his bid for a first Open title at 10:20 with Will Zalatoris and Justin Rose for company.

Brooks Koepka is an 08:45 starter and the star attraction of a threesome that includes Jason Kokrak and Garrick Higgo.

Darren Clarke, who prevailed when last Royal St George's last hosted in 2011, goes out at 08:25 alongside Bernd Wiesberger and amateur Joe Long.

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