Appoints former and new British Open leaders

Appoints former and new British Open leaders

A strategy for winning a major golf championship rarely looks like this: find your flight canceled and the next one delayed, walk the half-mile or so to passport control, endure an agonizing wait at baggage claim less than 48 hours before the tournament’s first tee times, and face jet lag.

It worked well enough for Stewart Cink on Thursday at the British Open.

“When the gun goes off and you start the tournament, you get that adrenaline rush, and the adrenaline does wonders for your jet lag,” said Cink, 50. It also appeared to do a lot of good for his score, which reported a three-under 68 to move him top of the first-round leaderboard at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in north-west England.

It’s always a dangerous game to predict the fate of a tournament after a single round, and it felt particularly risky after the Royal Liverpool start, where the top of the league table hits names old and new and an army of formidable and familiar opponents lurked just below.

There was Cink, who won the 2009 Open at Turnberry, Scotland, by defeating Tom Watson, then 59, in a playoff. But Christo Lamprecht, an amateur who plays for Georgia Tech, ended his five-under round with the lead. Open runners-up Tommy Fleetwood and Emiliano Grillo, who birdied five of his last eight holes, leveled Lamprecht late in the day, letting them start Friday with a one-stroke lead over Brian Harman, Adrián Otaegui and Antoine Rozner.

Rory McIlroy, who won the British Open in 2014 when the tournament was last played at Royal Liverpool, ended in a draw, and Cameron Smith, looking to defend the title he won in St.

With the weather on the field, known as Hoylake, expected to worsen during the tournament – R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers listed the weekend’s options as “wet” or “very wet” – Thursday was perhaps the best chance for the 156-man field to make pitches without diabolical complications. (The players were certainly more likely to hit par or better than finish one of the field’s ice cream cones before seeing it melt into a spectacular, gooey mess.)

Fleetwood, which hails from Southport, England, just 30 miles to the north, is a crowd favorite almost everywhere, but particularly in Britain. On Thursday, he turned in the kind of excellent play that has lately eluded him at the start of the majors. He had not finished below average in the first round of a major since the 2021 Open at Royal St. Louis. George’s, where he ended up tying for 33rd.

“In the first round, it’s absolutely what you wanted, and starting well is good,” said Fleetwood, who struggled from the first tees but left number 5 emboldened by a birdie. He returned the shot on the next hole, before resuming it on the seventh. He holed four holes in the back nine and started a three-streak at No. 14.

Lamprecht’s rise began first, with a birdie on the third hole. But it was only after a bad shot at No. 1 — when he probably felt his “only jitters” all day, he said — that he sparked a pep talk from Devin Stanton, his caddy and assistant coach at Georgia Tech.

“Listen, you’re playing the Open as an amateur,” said Lamprecht, Stanton told him. “No need to stress.”

Lamprecht, who at 1.80 m is among the tallest players ever at the British Open, played for the 151st time, responded with force. He tripped twice on the back nine but used four birdies on that stretch to finish at 66.

“I think the way I played today, I won to be at the top of the leaderboard from now on,” said Lamprecht, 22. “It’s not an arrogant thing to say. Personally, I think I believe in myself and I think that when you step on that first tee box, whether you’re a professional or a competitor, you have to believe that you have to be the best standing there.

Cink, a Georgia Tech alumnus who still uses the practice facilities there, was awestruck by Lamprecht’s talents, including his enormous power, and marveled again on Thursday afternoon.

“As a 50-year-old golfer, seeing a guy like him, he’s like your basic nightmare, seeing a guy like him coming in,” Cink said Thursday. “He can hit like 330 in the air and he hits those putts on the green so smooth, it’s amazing. He has a lot of very good potential ahead of him.”

Not that Cink was ready to cede the tournament to Lamprecht, not after a day in which he mostly avoided Royal Liverpool’s brutal 84 bunkers. Its flatness, Cink noted, sends a moment-charged ball toward the lip, unencumbered by gravity. And despite his score, he didn’t think Hoylake was particularly suited to his strengths.

“But playing smart, being disciplined and patient and keeping your heart in the right place, that fits my game,” said Cink, who turned 50 in May and is weighing whether to play more events on the PGA Tour Champions, as the senior tournament is known today.

“It’s a must on courses like this, and it’s all about the execution,” said Cink, whose wife, Lisa, is his caddy this week. “Today I performed very well, and that was very evident on the scoreboard. It was a good clean day. Placed well from within eight feet. That’s the kind of thing you have to do in a major.

The cut, defined in the first 70 draws, is expected on Friday night. Heading into the second round, past major winners Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas were in danger of seeing their ambitions of winning the claret jug come to an end quickly. Thomas, who won the 2017 and 2022 PGA Championships, shot 11 on Thursday, tying for 153rd.

But some other great champions, including Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama and Scottie Scheffler, were just four strokes off the lead, setting the stage for a scramble for the top.

Cink insisted on Thursday that the tournament was hardly the exclusive domain of younger players. Two years ago, he noted, Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at 50, and then there was Watson’s performance in 2009.

“I have no doubt I can beat this,” Cink said. “It will take a long time. It’s going to take some very, very exceptional play to my name, but it’s there.

Indeed, even a player as preternaturally confident as Clark – last month he said his May victory at the Wells Fargo Championship (correctly) convinced him he was good enough to win a major tournament – he’s watched the rigors of a tournament like this one.

“This is just day one,” Clark said. “I have three more days.”

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