TOMMY FLEETWOOD felt more like Toffee Fleetwood, as thousands of fellow Everton fans roared him into top spot.
GettyTommy Fleetwood hailed Everton-loving golf fans as he roared to the top of the Open pack[/caption]
That took him level with giant 6ft 8in South African amateur Christo Lamprecht — who defied his lack of experience with some monster hitting to set the early target.
And they were joined by resurgent Argentine star Emiliano Grillo, 30, who ended a seven-year wait for a second PGA Tour title at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May.
But it was Fleetwood who thrilled the crowds most — and he admitted he was feeding off their energy.
The Southport-born Everton season- ticket holder explained: “The support was great and it felt very cool.
“I would love to play at Goodison and give that a go, and it almost felt like I was doing that at times.
“The crowds were great right from the start and the reception down the last was just amazing.
“It’s a special opportunity to play so close to home. For me, it was so cool.
“I am a lot like the guys that are out there. I am a fan of the game, I am from this area so to feel that support was special.
“It’s so close to home and an amazing opportunity to play here.
“They have been great. I’m from the North West, I’ll always be a North West boy and to have so many from the area supporting you is great.
“You can put too much pressure on yourself and try too hard — but to have those people egging you on, good shot or bad, makes me feel very lucky.”
Fleetwood, 32, was runner-up at The 2019 Open in Portrush and the US Open the year before.
He has also finished in the top five in four other Majors.
But he has earned a reputation as a slow starter who finishes like a train but leaves himself too much to do.
So this stunner was even more welcome.
It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in a Major
He added: “For any tournament you want a fast start and that has not been my strength recently.
“It felt really good. From the fifth or sixth I started hitting good shots and it was a case of finally getting on a run.
“It’s exactly what you want in a first round and it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in a Major.”
Lamprecht, a 22-year-old from the Western Cape studying at Georgia Tech in the USA, clearly loves this part of the world too.
He earned his place in The Open by winning the Amateur Championship just up the coast at Hillside — a couple of miles from Fleetwood’s birthplace.
Lamprecht uses his massive frame to good effect. His ball speed regularly reaches a jaw-dropping 205MPH and his average carry with a driver is 340 yards.
He had to rein things back a bit to avoid the bunkers but was still buzzing about his Major championship debut.
Lamprecht’s a tall bloke. I saw him in the locker room and it’s like looking up at the ceiling!
Lamprecht — who holed a chip for birdie at 14 — said: “I’d probably say the first tee shot was the only bit of nerves I had all day.
“Yeah, I just kind of walked off the first tee box after hitting a snap hook drive and my caddie just told me, ‘Listen, you’re playing The Open as an amateur, no need to stress’. We kind of had fun from there.”
Fellow amateur Harrison Crowe said Lamprecht can be an intimidating presence.
The Aussie, 21, said: “He’s a tall bloke. I saw him in the locker room and it’s like looking up at the ceiling!”
Local lad Matthew Jordan hit The Open’s first tee shot on his way to a two-under 69.
The Royal Liverpool member, 27, said: “I’m running out of words to describe it. It was crazy, loud, everything that I could have wished for.
“I’m trying to think of a better experience than that and don’t think I can.”
Aussie Lucas Herbert was closing in on the leaders until he became the first big victim of Hoylake’s ‘Killer Dwarf’ — the controversial 136-yard 17th hole.
He was three under until he sent a chip racing into a bunker, failed to get out with his first attempt and then two-putted for a triple-bogey six.