Major championships cannot be won on a Thursday but they most certainly can be lost. Just ask Tommy Fleetwood. The 32-year-old has displayed a recent habit of sluggish starts in golf’s marquee events that have left him playing a level of catch-up he has been unable to master. Fleetwood began the 2022 Open with a 72 and tied fourth. At last month’s US Open, he shared fifth after opening with a 73.
The times may be a-changing. Fleetwood’s five-under-par 66 on day one at the 151st Open Championship at a sun-kissed Royal Liverpool represents his lowest first round in a major. Finally, he has been Usain Bolt from the traps. On a leaderboard that is adequate rather than striking in respect of star star attractions, Fleetwood stands out. He has it within his want to end a preposterous record; the last Englishman to win the Open in his home nation was Tony Jacklin in 1969.
This was the day Southport came to Hoylake. The former is sufficiently close to the latter for Fleetwood to claim vehement local support at Royal Liverpool golf club. In a quirk of fate, one of the men who surprisingly ties Fleetwood at the summit of the leaderboard also has a strong – if much more recent – Southport connection. Christo Lamprecht, playing in his first major, won the amateur championship at Hillside last month.
Fleetwood was only one under at the turn. Birdies at the 11th, 14th, 15thand 16th enhanced his position. At the last, Fleetwood bravely saved par after leaving his first putt dangerously short. The scale of backing for Fleetwood from the galleries has been notable all week. In the tournament proper, it was cranked up even further.
“To be in the clubhouse having played so well is a lovely feeling,” Fleetwood said. “It is such a special opportunity to play so close to home, to have that support when playing in an Open. I am glad I gave them some good golf to watch.
“I guess for any tournament, you just want to get off to a fast start. It’s not really been my strength recently. I have started tournaments pretty slowly so to get something going today felt really good.”
Emiliano Grillo was also beaming after converting a 51ft birdie putt at the last to join the five-under party. Grillo’s Open record is curious; he has tied for 12th twice and missed the cut on the four other occasions he has competed. The Argentine played the back nine in just 31 shots.
Lamprecht’s towering frame stretches to 6ft 8in. No sooner had he appeared for post-round press duties than one member of the media sought to clarify his shoe size, as if that bears relevance in respect of claiming the Claret Jug. History is slightly on Lamprecht’s side; Bobby Jones won the Open here as an amateur in 1930. Nobody really expects Lamprecht to stick around at the business end of proceedings, which suits him just fine.
“I walked off the first tee box after hitting a snap-hook drive,” said the 22-year-old. “My caddie just told me, ‘Listen, you’re playing the Open as an amateur. No need to stress.’ We kind of had fun from there. I earned my spot to be here. I think the way I played today, I earned being at the top of the leaderboard.”
Antoine Rozner, Brian Harman and Adrián Otaegui ensured Fleetwood and co only lead by one. Jordan Spieth lurks with intent at minus two, having bogeyed the last for his 69. Spieth’s missed cut at last week’s Scottish Open may have been a false alarm. That said, at the 8th , he shanked an eight-iron out of bounds. “That shakes you up a little bit,” said the 2017 winner. “It took me a couple of holes to get my feet back under me.”
Alex Noren, plotting a route to the Ryder Cup, and the US Open champion, Wyndham Clark, are three under. So, too, is Stewart Cink. Fourteen years after ruining the prospect of sporting fairytale and a 59-year-old Tom Watson winning the Open at Turnberry, maybe Cink will be at it again in a joust with Fleetwood. It was claimed Cink killed Santa Claus in 2009. What next? Fleetwood as Bambi?
Now 50, Cink firmly believes he can win the Open. “Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “I just have to look back to Phil Mickelson winning the US PGA. I think that was probably a more difficult course than this.”
Rory McIlroy was immersed in a battle with his own patience and sat two over par before a 41ft birdie putt found the bottom of the 14th hole. McIlroy collected another shot at the 15th and played straightforward golf before an astonishing par save from bunker chaos at the last. At just five from the lead, McIlroy will fancy his chances tomorrow morning.
Rickie Fowler was chugging along perfectly nicely before taking eight at the last for a 72. Shane Lowry matched his playing partner’s score, as did the defending champion, Cameron Smith. Pádraig Harrington, many people’s outside Open tip, slipped to a 74. Bryson DeChambeau is also plus three. Justin Thomas slumped to an 82.
If Just Stop Oil had designs on day one at the Open, none of the anticipated protests came to pass. Instead, it was Just Stop Tommy.