Local hero Tommy Fleetwood raises hopes of a first English winner of The Open in 31 years with superb opening 66 as he takes a share of the lead – but Rory McIlroy’s bid for fifth major starts with an undulating and wild 71

new balance


With every stride and stroke around these Wirral links, the galleries had the same message for one of their own: ‘Go on, Tommy, lad.’ And on he went, right to the top of the leaderboard at The Open.

It’s far too early to talk about the curse, and the 31 years since an Englishman won this tournament, but Tommy Fleetwood, raised 30 miles away in Southport, has made a fine start indeed.

His opening loop of 66 means he will commence the second round on Friday afternoon in a share of the lead on five under par with the Argentine Emiliano Grillo and the fabulous amateur Christo Lamprecht of South Africa.

They set the standard on a day that predominantly belonged to some of golf’s lesser lights, and one in which Rory McIlroy carded an undulating and wild 71. His pursuit of a first major in nine years will require a comeback from five shots behind, though it could have been far worse.

The world No 2 was two over through 12, including the horror-show of a missed par putt from two feet on the eighth, but he gained a pair of shots on the way in, before surviving one of those hellish bunker scenarios on 18 that put the charm in links golf. His par on that final test, having required two shots to escape the sand, had the ring of a significant moment, even if it currently has the look of damage limitation.

Tommy Fleetwood, raised 30 miles away in Southport, made a fine start at Hoylake

Tommy Fleetwood, raised 30 miles away in Southport, made a fine start at Hoylake

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Fleetwood set the pace with a superb five-under-par 66 in the opening round

Fleetwood set the pace with a superb five-under-par 66 in the opening round

At the very least, it lifted his mood after a difficult lap of three bogeys and three birdies. ‘These bunkers are just really tough,’ he said. ‘I might have been there all night at 18.

‘I thought anything in the 60s would be good. I didn’t quite get there. After bogeying a couple on the front I could have let the round get away and I didn’t. Even is a solid start. I wouldn’t mind being a couple lower but I’ll take it. I’m right in the golf tournament.’

While McIlroy’s numbers told the story of a scenic lap of Royal Liverpool, Fleetwood’s scores were a tale of relentless progress in the right direction. Finishing up just moments before McIlroy started, he carded six birdies and only one bogey, which is quite something for the world No 21, who has been on the cusp of a huge breakthrough but has too often been undone by slow starts in the majors.

This 66 snapped the trend and was illuminated by a sequence of long putts, including a 25-footer at 11 and a brute of a 26-footer downhill on 16. Ordinarily known for the beauty of his swing and ball-striking, his position here is testament to his performance with the short stick. That and the uplifting effect of a crowd that roared his every step.

‘I am one of them,’ he said. ‘I’m a fan of the game. I’m from this area. I feel at home and to feel that support, it means a lot.

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‘For a first day, this was a pretty good one.’

It was that and more. Fleetwood, one of the earlier starters at 9.47am, had the better of the weather, with marginally stronger breezes in the afternoon and evening, but there were none of the vast disparities that make us think of good and bad sides of the draw at an Open. He, Lamprecht and Grillo, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, are top on merit, not fortune.

In the case of Lamprecht, a college student of 22 in the US, who qualified for his major debut by winning the Amateur Championship in June, it was deeply impressive. He shot seven birdies, including four on the back nine.

A cluster of three, featuring Antoine Rozner, Adrian Otaegui and Brian Harman are four under, with US Open champion Wyndham Clark going well again after a 68. The bigger beasts found it tougher – Scottie Scheffler, the world No 1, is one under despite yet another day with a stone-cold putter, and five-time major champion Brooks Koepka is at the same mark. Further back is and Cameron Smith, the defending champion, who was forced to rely on his short game in a 72, while Dustin Johnson hit a disappointing 74.

Rory McIlroy survived one of those hellish bunker scenarios on 18 to card a battling 71

Rory McIlroy survived one of those hellish bunker scenarios on 18 to card a battling 71

Amateur Christo Lamprecht shot seven birdies, including four on the back nine

Amateur Christo Lamprecht shot seven birdies, including four on the back nine

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World No 1 Scottie Scheffler finished one under despite another day with a stone-cold putter

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler finished one under despite another day with a stone-cold putter

The most frustrations among those viewed as contenders belonged to Jon Rahm. Teeing off alongside McIlroy at 2.59pm, he shot a single birdie in a 74, with his round best typified by a drive at 12 that hit a spectator and bounced into a bunker. The gentleman, with a nasty cut on his head, saw humour in the situation and apparently asked the Spaniard: ‘How’s your lie?’ Not great as it happens – he had to fire out backwards. He was chuntering for most of the afternoon and evening.

For a time, McIlroy did likewise. He birdied the second via an excellent wedge approach, which has recently been a shortcoming, but he also had some good fortune on that hole when his wayward drive landed him adjacent to a grandstand, enabling a free drop.

From that promising start, he bogeyed four, eight and 12 but was generally solid from the tee and on most greens – the miss from two feet at the eighth was an outlier, albeit an awful one – and that allowed the back-nine revival, with a birdie from 45 feet at 14 and a further stroke gained at 15. His par at the last will feel like another, given he holed a 10-footer after some serious adventures in the sand.

By then, Fleetwood had his feet up. The local lad is going very well.

new balance



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