HOYLAKE, England – The first round of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club featured a bit of everything. Thursday started with 27-year-old Matthew Jordan hitting the first tee on the course he grew up on and ended with Rory McIlroy climbing and descending from an impossible bunker in 18th place and five shots behind leadership remained.
Only thirty-one players managed to make it through the difficult links with an underperforming score. One of them was a 1.80m tall amateur from South Africa who plays at Georgia Tech named Christo Lamprecht. Another was Stewart Cink, a 50-year-old former Open winner, who only made it to the spot on Tuesday.
The eclectic leaderboard was the result of an idyllic day in Hoylake, where neither the weather nor the wind played a role. That changes on Friday, which brings cold weather and rain that could make this year’s tournament a mental battle against the track and the elements.
Here are the key storylines ahead of the second round at Royal Liverpool.
The kid from the hometown
Tommy Fleetwood grew up 30 miles north of Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Southport. Getty Images
As Tommy Fleetwood walked up the 18th fairway on Thursday, the crowd continued the cheering he had been hearing all day. They didn’t just cheer for one of them. They cheered for the leader of The Open.
“I’m glad I gave them good golf,” said Fleetwood after his round.
Having grown up 30 miles north of Royal Liverpool in Southport and played Royal Liverpool countless times, Fleetwood was clearly comfortable in his game, firing a 66 in the first round and defending his lead through Friday at 5 under.
The 32-year-old Englishman is vying to become the first Englishman to win the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and the first Englishman to win an Open Championship on English soil since Tony Jacklin in 1969.
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Fleetwood has only led or led by a round once in his great career (110 rounds today) – that was over 36 holes at the 2017 US Open – but although his trend is in the right direction this season (six ). He finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour) and didn’t get off to a good start in the majors.
“It hasn’t been my forte lately,” Fleetwood said. “The tournaments started off pretty slowly so it felt really good to get something going today.”
Despite starting Thursday with four straight pars, Fleetwood birdied on six of his next 14 holes, including three straight on the back nine with just one bogey. So far he is more than seven shots clear of the rest of the field and is aiming to round off his strong year with a win that would almost be too good to be true: his first major win ever to be played in his home country, a Claret Jug for the self-proclaimed “Northwest Kid”, set near his home in the Northwest.
“All I want to do is keep working hard, keep playing and keep putting myself in the right position,” Fleetwood said. “And of course it will be my turn soon.”
Clark is aiming for a rare double whammy
Wyndham Clark wants to join an exclusive list of US Open winners who won the Open in the same year. Getty Images
Since 1970, there have only been three US Open winners to win the Open Championship in the same year: Lee Trevino in 1971, Tom Watson in 1982 and Tiger Woods in 2000.
Wyndham Clark, who won his first major championship at the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club last month, has gotten off to a great start in his bid to join them. He scored 3 under 68 in the first round and looked right at home at Royal Liverpool.
After turning the straight par 35, Clark caught birdies on numbers 10 and 11. He then ran into trouble on the par 4 of 14. He shot his shot wide to the right and his ball bounced off a fan’s iPad. Clark said he committed a terrible lie in the end, hitting the next shot about two feet. His third shot landed in the rough near the green and he managed to bogey.
“A little unlucky off the tee,” Clark said. “Obviously it’s never good to meet the guy, but it really went to a bad place. If I hadn’t hit the guy I probably would have been in fine grass and could have hit him near the green.”
“Yeah, going up and down and doing a 20-foot loop is really a loop saver because you can do double that and probably still make a birdie on the next one, maybe, maybe not.” But it seems like it’s taking the momentum, and that putt made me feel like I had my momentum back.
When asked if the fan’s iPad was okay, Clark said: “Well, I don’t care now. It messed me up.”
The fiery target in Hoylake only gets tougher
Jordan Spieth made par on a treacherous 17th hole on Thursday. Getty Images
The last two are likely to be the most convincing tee shots of this year’s Open. Over the course of a day at the Royal Liverpool, the 17th and 18th holes have become the subject of much drama and fanfare. During the morning wave, Lucas Herbert led the tournament for a moment before heading to the 17th hole and hitting the ball from bunker to bunker for a triple bogey.
“I think if you hit a reasonably good shot and you miss the fairway, miss the green by a few yards, you’re in the back of the bunker, you do a double, you lose The Open, that’s going to hurt. There is.” There’s no doubt about it,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, who birdied on a light wind Thursday. “But at the same time it is the same for everyone. A good shot will be required. It might be a little too punishing on the right, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Whilst Thursday was quite a positive day for the new hole at Hoylake, most players expect things to get much tougher as the week progresses as the wind and weather improve.
“It could turn into a bloodbath,” said Jordan Spieth, who scored a par on 17 points on Thursday.
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For both Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler, it was the 18th hole that bloodied their scorecards in Round 1.
Fowler was down by 2 heading to the last hole of his round and had just hit a 300 yard drive down the center of the fairway. His first approach went right and straight into the internal out of bounds that runs down the right side of the fairway.
After suffering a penalty drop, Fowler tried again and threw it in a similar spot. When he folded, Fowler had to hit a triple bogey-8 that set him back to 1 over. It is only the second time in his distinguished career that Fowler has tripled the final hole of a round.
Scott’s drive at the 18th point slid off his line and went well into the out of bounds zone. The Aussie overcorrected his next shot and instead pulled his second drive left and over the fan fence. The ball actually hit a fan in the head, prompting Scott to remove his glove, sign it and give it to the fan before eventually making a double bogey and, like Fowler, also ending with 1 over.
Both holes will continue to be fascinating to watch throughout the week. On the 17th, any player throwing it into a bunker must pray for a good lie. As several players such as Tony Finau showed on Thursday, a ball finding the sand-filled pits could land off the bunker wall, leading to creative play and a shot down, if not two.
More pot bunker fun pic.twitter.com/mtXS8mbmrt
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“You’re standing at every tee and almost every bunker is in play,” said Shane Lowry. “You’re kind of trying to figure out what to do because when you sit back you’re just playing for pars. If you take it and you hit a bad shot and you end up in a bunker, it’s basically a penalty.”
As for 18, seeing more players going out may make whoever hits the box first at the weekend think about the worst-case scenario, especially if the wind and rain pick up. As Spieth said Thursday, it’s the crosswinds on the course, no matter how light or strong, and the bunkers underneath that give the golf course its strength.
“I think the most difficult thing about this course is the cross winds off the tee and how important it is to hit the fairways,” said Spieth. “It’s just amazing how strong the wind, the strength of the wind, affects the ball here in cross winds.”
Unlike 18 at the Los Angeles Country Club during the US Open, this one will have a good chance of reaching the finish line. If 17 doesn’t cost someone the open then maybe 18.