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Tommy Fleetwood rode a wave of home support to the top of the leaderboard in pursuit of a first major title in the 151st Open Championship.
Roared on by a partisan crowd at Royal Liverpool, the 32-year-old from Southport carded an opening 66 to share the clubhouse lead with South African amateur Christo Lamprecht and Emiliano Grillo on five under par.
France’s Antoine Rozner and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui were a shot behind, with former champion Stewart Cink – who denied Tom Watson a fairytale victory at Turnberry in 2009 – on three under alongside US Open champion Wyndham Clark and Alex Noren.
Fleetwood revelled in the support of the large galleries in what will be an emotional week, with Friday marking the first anniversary of the death of his mother Sue.
“It really was a great day,” Fleetwood said after a round containing six birdies and a solitary bogey.
“To get that support all day was amazing. 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.
“Being this close to home is the coolest thing and I’m so grateful to everyone that cheers me on. I am one of them, one of the guys that’s out there. I’m a fan of the game. I’m from this area. To feel that support, it means a lot.
“Of course throughout the day, you can easily put too much pressure on yourself. You can easily try too hard. But just having that support and people egging you on just pushes you on.”
Fleetwood has yet to register a win this season despite some excellent performances, including carding a 63 in the final round of the US Open for the second time in his career.
He also lost out in a play-off in the RBC Canadian Open when home favourite Nick Taylor holed from 72 feet for an eagle on the fourth extra hole.
“It’s much better having good results than getting kicked in the teeth all the time when you feel like you’re working so hard and you’re doing the right things,” he added.
“I enjoy the game, and I enjoy trying to get better. At the moment we’re obviously in this period where I have to be patient and trusting in what we’re doing.
“There’s times where it could go either way, and it hasn’t gone my way yet. Hopefully it’ll be my turn soon.”
Lamprecht carded seven birdies and two bogeys in his 66, the 6ft 8in 22-year-old having qualified by winning the Amateur Championship at nearby Hillside a month ago.
“It’s pretty surreal to be leading. (But) I think I earned my spot to be here,” Lamprecht said. “I think the way I played today I earned to be on the top of the leaderboard, as of now.
“It’s not a cocky thing to say. I just personally think I believe in myself and I guess stepping on to the first tee box, if you’re a professional or a competitor, you should be believing that you should be the best standing there.”
Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan struck the opening tee shot at 6.35am and enjoyed massive support as he carded an opening 69 matched by three-time major winner Jordan Spieth.
“Amazing. I’m kind of running out of words to describe it,” Jordan said of the reception he received. “It was crazy, mental, loud – everything that I could have wished for.
“I’m certainly trying to think of a better experience than that, and I don’t think I can.”
The controversial new 17th hole claimed its first victim, with Lucas Herbert, joint-leader at the time on three under, making a triple-bogey at the 126-yard par three.
Herbert missed the green to the left, chipped across the putting surface into a bunker, left his next in the sand and eventually finished with a six.
Rory McIlroy, who lifted the Claret Jug here in 2014, was among the later starters and battling to avoid a damaging start, the four-time major winner covering his first 14 holes in one over par.
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