July 19, 2018 / 11:33 AM / 4 months ago

Golf: South African van Rooyen early leader in benign Open conditions

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - South African Erik van Rooyen showed few nerves in his first round in a major championship at the British Open on Thursday, taking advantage of ideal morning conditions to race to the clubhouse lead with a four-under-par 67.

Jul 19, 2018; Carnoustie, SCT; Erik van Rooyen plays his shot from the 16th tee during the first round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Van Rooyen, out in the second group of the day at 6:46 a.m., never looked back after birdies at the first two holes on a near calm morning at Carnoustie.

With the usually brutal course there for the taking, his play was unblemished until a bogey at the par-four 18th, where he sank a six-foot putt to avoid dropping two shots.

Van Rooyen ranked 144th in the world, has been in good form lately. He led the Irish Open by four strokes heading into the final round two weeks ago, before fading to finish equal fourth with a closing 74.

He said he tried to adopt of mindset on Thursday that the Open was just another tournament.

“It is a major but my mindset today was I’ve played a lot of golf this year already,” he said. “I was quite comfortable.”

Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, also thrived in the benign conditions, at least until bogeying the final two holes for a 69 matched by fellow Englishman Matthew Southgate.

Most of the big names were yet to tee off, though 2013 champion Phil Mickelson was among those out early, even par after six holes.

Veteran Scot Sandy Lyle, the champion way back in 1985, had the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m..

With the stands next to the tee barely half full, Lyle was greeted with warm applause as he striped an iron down the middle of the bone-dry fairway. He shot 75.

Barely a hint of a breeze was evident on another delightful summer morning on the east coast of Scotland.

But the perfect conditions did not last long, as a breeze sprang up late morning and was forecast gust to around 20 miles per (32 kph) hour during the afternoon.

Players were greeted by the most parched fairways in recent memory, perhaps even browner and drier than at the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool.

World number one Dustin Johnson, 14-times major champion Tiger Woods and four-times major winner Rory McIlroy were among those with late tee times.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth made a smooth start, two-under after eight holes.

Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Chopra

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