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Tommy Fleetwood was inspired by “very special” home support as he put himself in contention to become the first English winner of The Open in 31 years.
Southport-born Fleetwood had the whole of Royal Liverpool behind him on Thursday morning as he set the early pace with an almost flawless five-under 66 in his opening round.
The 32-year-old blitzed the front nine in 32 shots in a round that included six birdies and just one blemish on the par-3 sixth.
He shares the overnight lead with the giant South African amateur Christo Lamprecht and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo as he bids to become the first Englishman to lift the Claret Jug since Sir Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992.
The tournament favourite Rory McIlroy made a brilliant save after huge bunker trouble on the last to shoot a rollercoaster level par 71 and sit five back from the leaders.
McIlroy’s playing partner Jon Rahm stumbled to an opening 74, the same score as the other man in the group Justin Rose.
PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, meanwhile, was not satisfied with his own one-under total which was matched by Viktor Hovland.
But the headlines belonged to the beaming Fleetwood on day one.
“It’s always very nerve-wracking playing in front of your home crowd in such a big event, but I got off to a decent start,” Fleetwood said.
“I was actually happy to have to get up and down on the first, holing a putt really settled me down and to get that going on the back nine was really, really cool. To get that support all day was amazing.
— Tommy Fleetwood (@TommyFleetwood1) July 20, 2023
“If you’re not going to enjoy this atmosphere and these experiences then what’s the point? Make sure you have the time of your life out there.”
Conditions first appeared benign but plenty of players made note of the cross-winds that were causing havoc with club selections, while tricky pin positions made scoring difficult at Hoylake.
That makes the 66 posted by the 6ft 8in Amateur Championship winner all the more impressive on the Wirral links in his Open debut.
World no.41 Grillo drained a monster putt on 18 to jump into a share of the lead, with Antoine Rozner, Adrian Otaegui and Brian Harman a further shot back.
This year’s championship was kicked off by Matthew Jordan, a Hoylake member since the age of seven, who was roared on ahead of his opening tee shot and throughout his impressive two-under round of 69.
Max Homa and Wyndham Clark sit two adrift of Fleetwood alongside 2009 champion Stewart Cink and Sweden’s Alex Noren.
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