Golf-Holder Lowry laments poor driving after rough start at British Open

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SANDWICH, England (Reuters) - After two years of waiting to defend his British Open title, Shane Lowry finally got his chance on Thursday but nerves got the better of the Irishman in a wobbly opening round of one-over 71 at Royal St George's.

Lowry, who won his sole major before a partisan crowd at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2019 before the 2020 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bogeyed his first two holes before a birdie on the sixth to make the turn in 36.

The 34-year-old made amends with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th but ended his round in frustration, finding a fairway bunker and dropping a stroke on the par-four 18th.

"Disappointed to bogey the last," Lowry said. "I think if I would have parred the last and shot level par I would have been quite happy with myself going home this afternoon, but I didn't.

"I didn't hit many fairways with my driver. Playing this course out of the rough is not the place to be."

While Lowry was struggling to keep the ball out of the treacherous rough, his playing partner Louis Oosthuizen found all the right places on the course in a blemish-free 64 to take the early lead.

"I didn't play my best golf. But then again, you're playing with Louis who's shooting six-under and playing great. It kind of makes you feel probably a little bit different," said Lowry, who was headed for the driving range seeking improvements.

"I battled hard. I was quite proud of myself. On to tomorrow."

Darren Clarke, who won in 2011 when the Open was last played at Sandwich, also finished one-over to sit alongside Lowry on the leaderboard.

The 52-year-old Northern Irishman lapped up a rousing reception as a former champion on the opening tee and went on to card two birdies and three bogeys in a topsy-turvy opening round.

"My ball flighting was the best it's been probably in maybe this past month or so," said Clarke, who has been playing on the senior circuit - the PGA Tour Champions -- since 2018.

"It was wonderful. The reception I got on the first tee and the first fairway was great.

"It's special to win it and it's even more special to come back to the place where you've won it at before."

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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