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First-group ‘buzz’ helps Sullivan set early pace

Andy Sullivan

Andy Sullivan credited the excitement of being part of the first group in The 149th Open with helping him set the early pace at Royal St George’s.

The 34-year-old joined Richard Bland, who had the honour of getting the Championship underway, and Marcus Armitage in an all-English trio who began proceedings at Sandwich at 6.35am on Thursday morning.

And all three put any nerves behind them to record solid rounds, with Sullivan shooting a three-under-par 67 to take the early clubhouse lead and set the standard for those following the morning starters in.

Having also been part of the opening group three years ago, the world no.85 was delighted to repeat the feat.

“It’s always a privilege to be in the first group of the day,” said Sullivan, who is looking to better his previous best Open finish of T12 at Royal Troon in 2016.

“I did it at Carnoustie with Sandy Lyle, which was amazing.

“This is the one event of the year you don’t mind getting up early. Sometimes you’re dragging yourself out of bed but you’ve always got a buzz to play at The Open.”

A birdie at the 1st set the tone for Sullivan, who had an eventful spell without a par between the 7th and 11th as he alternated between bogeys and birdies.

Birdies at the 15th and 18th followed to leave him reflecting on a job well done.

“I got off to a really good start by holing 30 feet on the first for birdie, holed another good one on four and got my round off to a nice start,” he said.

“I hit a few nice shots and made a few mistakes along the way but I felt really composed out there today.”

The first Open Championship for two years was started by Bland, who successfully located the fairway at the 1st – a feat not managed by everyone on a testing opening morning – en route to a par.

The 48-year-old, who recorded his maiden European Tour triumph when he lifted the British Masters in May, went on to finish at level par and admitted the butterflies were circling in his stomach before getting the Championship underway.

“It was very special, very nerve-wracking,” he said.

“I was okay when I got on to the tee. A little bit nervous because you're just about to start a major Championship, but then once the announcer said right, it's 30 seconds guys, you're like, 'right, this is it'.

“This is what it's all about. The nerves definitely cranked up a little bit and I was glad to hit one down the fairway.

“It was a tremendous honour and great for the R&A to put that on me. It's something that I wasn't expecting at all.

“When Martin [Slumbers] called me on Sunday and said about it, it was a special moment.”

Armitage completed the trio of impressive English performances on home soil by finishing at -1 and all three will look to make further inroads up the leaderboard when they begin their second round at 11.36am on Friday.

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