KINGSBARNS, Scotland (AP) — Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen put himself in contention for another memorable victory at St. Andrews, taking a share of the lead Thursday after the first round of the Dunhill Links Championship.
The South African shot a 6-under 66 in excellent conditions at Kingsbarns, joining Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Markus Brier and Michael Hoey at the top of the leaderboard.
The tournament ends Sunday at St. Andrews, the scene of Oosthuizen’s sensational seven-shot win in the 2010 British Open.
“There’s nothing better than holding the claret jug at St. Andrews,” Oosthuizen said. “Hopefully, at the end of the week, it’s a different trophy. That would be special.”
Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell was one of six players a stroke behind after shooting a 67 at Kingsbarns, where top-ranked Luke Donald had a 69 on one of three courses at the $5 million event.
Fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson, the top American in the field, was five shots back at 71, while U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy shot 72.
Each member of the 178-man field will play all three par-72 courses over the first three days of the pro-am. Kingsbarns hosted the high-profile contenders and had most of the low scoring on Thursday.
Seven of the top 10 on the leaderboard played their first rounds there, with Brier and Hoey (St. Andrews) and Scotland’s Marc Warren (5 under at Carnoustie) the only players to make a serious mark elsewhere.
Oosthuizen missed last year’s Dunhill Links – and with it a return to St. Andrews two months after his first major win – because of an ankle injury. He made seven birdies in his round after starting on No. 10 with his brother Rikus as a playing partner.
“I didn’t watch (the Dunhill Links) on TV last year because I was too upset that I wasn’t there,” said Oosthuizen, whose sole victory this year came at the Africa Open. “But it’s been nice to come back here and experience everything again. With the weather like this, you should take advantage of it. You never know what’s round the corner here.”
Cabrera-Bello squandered the chance to take the outright lead at 7 under by bogeying the last hole. The 27-year-old Spaniard rolled in six birdies and had an eagle at the par-5 No. 3.
After getting advice from former coach Clive Tucker, a refreshed McDowell returned from three weeks off to make four birdies and an eagle at Kingsbarns. He had a double-bogey 6 at No. 12, his third hole.
Second-ranked Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and former amateur star Tom Lewis were among the 11 players at 4 under.
Donald is aiming for his fifth victory this year and improve his standing at the top of the European Tour money list.
Aside from a bogey at No. 7, where he three-putted for the first time since the British Open in July, Donald was error-free. He had three birdies in five holes after the turn, just when the wind started to pick up off the North Sea in the early afternoon.