Stuck in traffic, Sergio makes it to the course in time

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Spain’s Sergio Garcia acknowledges the crowd as he walks onto the 18th green during the first round British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s golf course Sandwich, England, Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Sergio Garcia had broken 70 only once in his previous eight rounds at Royal St. George’s, so he was particularly pleased with a 68 in the first round Thursday at the British Open.

He started the day bracing for the worst because of a traffic jam.

“Even though I left the house with plenty of time, I needed a little bit of help from a couple of very nice English policemen on bikes to get me here with only about 35, 40 minutes to tee off,” Garcia said.

The Spaniard says he prefers to be at the course about an hour-and-a-half before his tee time so he can ease his way into preparations.

This left him as stressful as anything he confronted on the links course.

He still doesn’t know what happened.

“We just got stuck. We couldn’t move,” Garcia said. “And thankfully they helped us a little bit and got us here in time. I was able to do a very quick practice, very quick warmup. But it worked out OK because I played nicely.”

It certainly worked out better for Garcia than it did Seve Ballesteros, who claimed he was stuck in traffic on the way to Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open, was late to the tee and disqualified.

GREAT START

Louis Oosthuizen posted his lowest score ever in a major with a 6-under 64, and it matched the best start in a British Open at Royal St. George’s, first set by Christy O’Connor in 1985.

That’s the good news.

Trouble is, low scores in the British Open do not always translate into the claret jug.

Oosthuizen is the 10th player with 64 or better in the first round of the British Open, a list that includes Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, who each had 63. None of those previous nine went on to win.

Mickelson lost in that magnificent duel with Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in 2016. McIlroy got caught in the wind the next day at St. Andrews in 2010 and shot 80.

Adam Scott shot 64 in the opening round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012 and looked to be a winner until he made bogey on his last three holes and was runner-up to Ernie Els.

BIG SHOT, SHORT MISS

Will Zalatoris had a lot to remember in his first British Open. He opened with a 1-under 69.

Zalatoris holed out from the fairway on the 12th hole for an eagle to reach 3 under. He was was still at 3 under when he went to knock in an 18-inch putt on the 17th hole. The stroke, even with his arm-lock grip, was so bad that he missed it badly to the right.

Zalatoris bogeyed the 18th, too, and had to settle for a 69.

It still has been quite a year for Zalatoris, who was playing on the Korn Ferry Tour at this time a year ago. He earned special temporary status on the PGA Tour, helped by his tie for sixth in the U.S. Open last year. He was runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters.

But his season could be coming to an end. Without a victory over the next three weeks, Zalatoris is not eligible for the PGA Tour’s lucrative postseason.

A PAIR OF DEUCES

Brandt Snedeker had a 68 for his lowest start to a British Open since 2012. But it’s the way he posted that number that was so astounding.

Snedeker was 1 over for his round with three holes to play when he nearly made a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole. He was even better on the 17th, holing out from the fairway for an eagle. Consecutive 2s on his card went a long way.

If it seems strange to see Snedeker at Royal St. George’s, there’s a reason. He is mired in a slump that has dropped him well out of the top 100 in the world for the first time in more than a decade. Off the course has been difficult. Snedeker has lost both parents since October, with his father dying of cancer in early June.

He qualified for the Open by reaching the Tour Championship in 2019. The R&A honored all players who would have been eligible had it been played last year.

ENGLISH CHANCES

There are 26 players from England at the British Open, and most of them are well aware of how long it has been since an Englishman had his name on the claret jug.

Nick Faldo in 1992 was the last.

And Englishman winning the Open on an English links? That would be Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes (Sandy Lyle, who won at Royal St. George’s in 1985, was born in England but played under the Scottish flag).

Is this the year? And what has taken so long?

Justin Rose says it’s all about numbers, For the longest time, English hopes were carried mainly by Lee Westwood. Rose, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Paul Casey soon joined the fray.

Now there are the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick.

“Right now, I think it’s probably as strong a chance as we’ve had, maybe even ever,” Rose said. “Listen, the lads can do it. We’ve all grown up playing lots of links golf to be honest with you, and yeah, it should be a style of golf that we all relish.

“Hopefully, Royal St George’s with the St George’s cross is kind of a lucky omen this week.”

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