Rory McIlroy. Alamy Stock Photo

McIlroy battles back from poor start to stay within reach at Open

Séamus Power is on even par while Alex Maguire and Shane Lowry are one shot further back.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Jul 2023

TOMMY FLEETWOOD RODE a wave of home support to the top of the leaderboard as Rory McIlroy battled back from a poor start in the 151st Open Championship to sit five shots off the lead.

Roared on by a partisan crowd at Royal Liverpool, Fleetwood carded an opening 66 to share the clubhouse lead with South African amateur Christo Lamprecht and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo on five under par.

Antoine Rozner, Adrian Otaegui and Brian Harman were all a shot behind, with former champion Stewart Cink – who denied Tom Watson a fairytale victory in 2009 – part of a group on three under which included US Open champion Wyndham Clark.

McIlroy, who lifted the Claret Jug at Hoylake in 2014, was two over par after 13 holes before making birdies on the 14th and 15th and a crucial par on the 18th after needing two shots to escape a greenside bunker.

It is unlikely that McIlroy was aware of the statistic that 50 of the last 52 Open champions have been within five shots of the lead after round one, but a fist pump suggested he certainly felt it was an important finish.

“It was a really good par in the end,” McIlroy said. “I got lucky because that ball could have gone into a deeper part of my footprints and I could have been there all night.

“I could have let that round get away from me but I didn’t with the two birdies on the back nine. I need to shoot something in the 60s tomorrow and I will be right there for the weekend.”

The Irish contingent had mixed fortunes on the opening day. Séamus Power is on even par after a round of 71 which included birdies on the fifth and 15th holes. He also picked up back-to-back bogeys on the sixth and seventh.

Shane Lowry and Alex Maguire are both on one-over with three bogeys and three birdies for Maguire. Darren Clarke is one shot further back while Pádraig Harrington is on three-over after hitting a round of 74.

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,” the 32-year-old from Southport 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.

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