|Published:||Sep 29, 2011 5:09 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Sep 30, 2011 6:30 AM EDT|
KINGSBARNS, Scotland (AP) - Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen put himself in contention to claim another memorable victory at St. Andrews by taking a share of the lead after the first round of the Dunhill Links Championship on Thursday.
The South African took advantage of sunny and relatively still conditions at Kingsbarns - one of three courses hosting the prestigious $5 million event - to shoot a 6-under 66 and join Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Markus Brier and Michael Hoey at the top of the leaderboard.
The tournament concludes Sunday at St. Andrews - commonly known as the "Home of Golf" and the scene of Oosthuizen's 2010 British Open win where he swept to a surprise victory by a seven-shot margin.
"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 shot a 69 to sit three shots off the lead.
Each member of the 178-man field will play all three par-72 courses over the first three days of the pro-am, but it was at Kingsbarns where all the high-profile contenders started off and where most of the low scoring was made Thursday.
Seven of the top 10 on the leaderboard played their first rounds there, with Brier and Hoey (both 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 maiden major win - because of an ankle injury. But he seized the opportunity this time, making 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 on home soil. "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 on 7 under - which he shot two years ago at Kingsbarns - by bogeying the last. The 27-year-old Spaniard earlier rolled in six birdies and an eagle at the par-5 No. 3.
"Obviously this course suits me," said Cabrera-Bello, who is without a tournament victory since the Austrian Open in 2009. "I haven't been playing great lately so to start with that score here is fantastic."
A double-bogey 6 at No. 16 blotted an otherwise flawless round by Brier around St. Andrews, where Hoey drained an eagle putt from just off the green on No. 18 to make it a four-way share of the lead.
In a better place mentally after turning to former coach Clive Tucker for advice over the past month, a refreshed McDowell returned from three weeks off to shoot four birdies and an eagle at Kingsbarns but was left to regret a double-bogey 6 at No. 12, his third hole.
Second-ranked Lee Westwood, Europe's 2010 Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and former amateur star Tom Lewis were among the 11 players on 4 under - a shot clear of Donald, who is bidding for a fifth victory of 2011 to pull even further clear at the top of the European Tour money list.
Aside from a bogey at No. 7, where he claimed he three-putted for the first time since the British Open in July, Donald was error-free, making three birdies in five holes after the turn just when the wind started to pick up off the North Sea in the early afternoon.
The benign weather is forecast to stay until Sunday, meaning the low scoring should continue.
Fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson, the top American in the field, is five shots off the pace after a 71 at Kingsbarns while U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy shot 72.