Thursday 15 July 2021 9:06 pm

Jordan Spieth laughs off Grace favour after he and fellow former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen set the pace at Royal St George's

Jordan Spieth played down the benefits of the “Branden Grace effect” after making a superb start to the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

Playing alongside South African Grace for the first two rounds proved something of a lucky charm for the last two Open champions, Shane Lowry and Francesco Molinari.

Spieth and fellow US star Bryson DeChambeau have the honour this year, and the former shot an opening 65 to lie a shot off the lead held by Louis Oosthuizen.

“I think that’s a coincidence,” said Spieth. “If it happens four or five times in a row, maybe people start paying to see who can get paired with him the first two rounds.

“I think that when you have a top-50, top-25 player in the world that Branden has been, he’s going to be in some pairings with guys who are certainly capable of winning major championships and it just so happened it was two years in a row.

“I did hear that ahead of time, though, which just made me laugh.”

Spieth, who won the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale but didn’t win again until April this year, bogeyed the third but bounced back with four straight birdies from the fifth and also picked up shots on the 15th and 16th.

Three-time major winnner Spieth and former world No1 fell to 92nd in the rankings following a missed cut in his first event of the season. But the 27-year-old has since recorded six top 10s in strokeplay events, including a tie for third in the Masters.

“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,” he said.

“That was the first time I’ve had to really try and build confidence back up, and it takes time.

“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.”

Oosthuizen leads Open, Rose and Willett impress

Oosthuizen, who won at St Andrews in 2010 and lost a play-off at the same venue five years later, carded a flawless six-under-par 64.

That gave the South African a one-shot lead over Spieth and Brian Harman, with 2009 champion Stewart Cink part of a five-strong group on four under.

Major champions Danny Willett and Justin Rose led the home challenge on three under alongside Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan.

Rory McIlroy birdied two of his last five holes in a battling 70 as US PGA winner Phil Mickelson slumped to an 80.

DeChambeau showed frustration during his round of 71, complaining that his driver “sucks”.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka returned a 69, while US Open champion and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm had to birdie the last to shoot 71, the same score as defending champion Lowry.

Already a runner-up in all four major championships, Oosthuizen took his unwanted total of near misses to six by finishing second in both the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and the US Open at Torrey Pines this season.

Asked how he copes with such losses, the 38-year-old South African said: “It depends if you lost it or someone else beat you. In both of those I was beaten by better golf at the end.

“It takes a little while but you have to get over it quickly otherwise it’s going to hold you back from performing again.”

Bland gets ball rolling at Royal St George’s

Oosthuizen currently leads the putting statistics on the PGA Tour and is so pleased with that part of his game that his old putters could even be consigned to a watery grave.

“I’ve got a bag there at home that I might just throw in a river someday,” Oosthuizen joked.

“I found one that I really like the look of and I worked on it. There were tournaments where I felt my stroke wasn’t great and I would actually change that putter then for the round. I didn’t want to have any bad memories of that putter being not good on the day.”

England’s Richard Bland had got play under way at 6.35am, the 48-year-old recognised for winning his first European Tour title at the 478th attempt in May and becoming the oldest halfway leader in US Open history last month.

Bland, who carded three birdies and three bogeys in his 70, said: “It was very special, very nerve-wracking. I was hoping I might get a good draw but that was something else.”

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