A local favourite, an Amateur Champion and an afternoon exception lead the way after day one of The 151st Open as Tommy Fleetwood, Christo Lamprecht and Emiliano Grillo each shot a five-under-par 66 at Royal Liverpool.
On a day which started with Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan getting the action underway, the course at Hoylake proved a challenge for many – particularly those who found themselves in the afternoon groups.
But South Africa’s Lamprecht, making his Open debut just down the road from Hillside, where he won The Amateur Championship to qualify, showed no such struggles.
With his imposing 6’ 8” frame, Lamprecht mastered the narrow fairways, swerved the devilish bunkers and produced one of the shots of the round to take the clubhouse lead.
He was joined on five-under by Fleetwood, who managed his best opening round at The Open as he looks to lift the Claret Jug and win a first major.
The 32-year-old from Southport started patiently before hitting his stride down the back nine with four birdies.
With scoring much more difficult in the afternoon as the wind picked up, there was one exception to the rule, recent Charles Schwab Challenge winner Grillo finishing with a sensational putt for birdie to join the leaders on five-under.
Elsewhere, there were some surprise names near the top of the leaderboard, France’s Antoine Rozner and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui both carding 67 to sit one behind the leaders. They were joined by Brian Harman later in the day, the American looking good again a year after finishing T6.
Life was tougher for Rory McIlroy, fresh from victory at the Genesis Scottish Open, as he shot 71 in a round that was full of drama.
Reigning Champion Golfer Cameron Smith battled his way to one-over, while world number one Scottie Scheffler is in better shape at one-under.
Lamprecht leads professionals a merry dance
Forget The Silver Medal, Christo Lamprecht looks like he can dream even bigger after a brilliant opening round.
In a group with mentor and hero Louis Oosthuizen, the giant South African raced out of the blocks with three birdies on the first six holes, showing no nerves on his Open debut.
And even after a first bogey on 11, he responded well, a brilliant chip in on 14 setting him on his way to a 66.
Only Fleetwood and Grillo could match that, and Lamprecht explained that the support of Oosthuizen was crucial to his success.
“I think that helped a lot with my score today,” he said.
“Having someone that I know very well and is a ginormous mentor for me that I've played previously with kind of helped me feel a little bit more at home and at ease.
“Louis was by far the favourite (player growing up). I've kind of grown up, known him personally, and watching him play, it's pretty amazing.”
“I don't think I've ever beaten him. I guess beating him today was really nice.”
Fleetwood comfortable on return to Royal Liverpool
Tommy Fleetwood admitted that nerves had got the better of him the last time he played at Royal Liverpool, making his debut at The 143rd Open in 2014.
He is a very different golfer these days and while that first major might still be eluding him, he looked comfortable on a course where many struggled.
Hailing from nearby Southport, it was little surprise that he had huge support – although no one topped Matthew Jordan, who hit the opening tee shot at 6:35am on the way to a more than creditable 69.
For Fleetwood, not traditionally a fast starter, it was pretty much the perfect opening round.
He said: “It was very cool, and I think you can't ask for more from the fans and the support. They were so great to me today.
“It’s such a special opportunity to play so close to home, to have that support and play an Open. I’m glad I gave them some good golf to watch.
“For any tournament, you just want to get off to a fast start. It's not really been my strength recently. I’ve started tournaments pretty slow, so to get something going today felt really good.
“As first rounds go, that's absolutely the one you wanted, and to get off to a good start feels good.”
Grillo joins the leaders
Scoring was largely more of a struggle in the afternoon but Emiliano Grillo showed that it was not impossible.
The 30-year-old Argentinian produced a stunning back nine, with five birdies to join Lamprecht and Fleetwood on five-under.
A birdie on the 17th, Royal Liverpool’s new par-3, was followed by a stunning 50-footer to record a 66, with Grillo planning to hang onto that lead for as long as possible.
He said: “I'm here to play as many holes as I can with the lead and just enjoy. It's one of the greatest honours in the world, and I'm up there.”
Antoine Rozner secured his place at Royal Liverpool through Final Qualifying, and has carried that form with him on the way to four-under.
This was the course where Frenchman Arnaud Massy became the first non-Brit to lift the Claret Jug, all the way back in 1907.
Rozner has a long way to go if he is to become the second, but a birdie on the 18th, where he had earlier found the sand, helped him to one shot off the lead.
Adrian Otaegui missed the cut on his only previous Open appearance, at Royal Portrush four years ago, but he joined Rozner on four-under with a flawless back nine, coming home in 32.
And 14 years on from his memorable victory over Tom Watson to lift the Claret Jug in 2009, Stewart Cink rolled back the years on his way to a 68 to sit tied seventh.
Big guns battling
Few people looked comfortable in testing conditions, but some of the pre-Championship favourites grappled and ground their way around to stay in contention.
An early birdie for Rory McIlroy was followed by some real struggles, not least a two-footer at the 8th which popped out to gasps from the crowd.
However, a monster putt from 41 feet on the 14th was the first of consecutive birdies as the last winner at Royal Liverpool got his round back on track, saving par at the last after a brilliant shot out of the bunker.
The 2017 Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth is another within striking distance, although a bogey on the 18th will have left a bitter taste after a fluent round.
Spieth is one back from Wyndham Clark, the recent US Open champion while PGA winner Brooks Koepka overcame a slow start to finish one-under, level with world number one Scottie Scheffler.
Defending Champion Cameron Smith has more work to do however, his four birdies not quite enough to make up for five bogeys on his way to 72.