Golf-Celebrations and controversy put aside as The Open gets underway

By Steve Keating

ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) – Scotsman Paul Lawrie launched the 150th British Open at the “Home of Golf” on Thursday, as anniversary celebrations and controversy were pushed aside.

With the Claret Jug standing on a pedestal alongside the first tee reminding every golfer of what is at stake this week, Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, was awarded the honour of hitting the first shot at St. Andrews for a second time to get play underway.

With the buildup to the season’s final major distracted by a feud between the PGA and DP Tours and the rebel LIV Invitational Series the focus was back on golf as a small but enthusiastic crowd – that is expected to swell to record numbers over the day – gathered in the morning chill.

The early wave will include hot favourite and world number two Rory McIlroy, who will head out just before 10am (0900 GMT) local time with defending champion Collin Morikawa and in-form American Xander Schauffele.

The Northern Irishman, looking to add to his haul of four majors including the 2014 Open, has been in great form, successfully defending his Canadian Open title in June while posting top 10 finishes in all three majors this season, including a runnerup at the Masters.

Many of the prominent names that have signed on with the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Series, including major winners Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed are also set for early starts.

Six-time major champion Mickelson tees off at 0730 (0630 GMT), two groups ahead of DeChambeau, the long-hitting 2020 U.S. Open winner who will play with 56-year-old fellow American John Daly, the Open champion at St Andrews in 1995.

The afternoon wave will not lack for marquee names, led by Tiger Woods, who continues his comeback from a 2021 car crash that nearly resulted in the loss of his right leg, on the course he counts as his favourite in the world.

Woods, twice Open champion at St Andrews, begins his bid for a 16th major title at 1459 GMT alongside Briton Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won this year’s U.S. Open.

World number one Scottie Scheffler will play with Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Briton Tyrrell Hatton while 2017 Open champion Jordan Spieth is also among the later starters in a group including world number three Jon Rahm of Spain.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in St Andrews. Editing by Hugh Lawson)