After Day 1 at Royal Liverpool, an eclectic leaderboard is topped by a trio at 5-under from three different continents.
The early half of the draw had the advantage in the first round, with a combined scoring average about a stroke easier than those who played in the afternoon.
Here are the top numbers and notes to know from round 1 of The 151st Open Championship.
1. For just the second time in the last 50 years, an amateur holds the first-round lead or co-lead at The Open. Twenty-two-year-old South African Christo Lamprecht, 2023 winner of The Amateur Championship, fired a five-under-par 66, overpowering Royal Liverpool at times on Thursday. At 6-foot-8, Lamprecht’s leverage helps generate some extreme swing speed. The PGA Tour leader this season in average ball speed is Cameron Champ, at 190.7 MPH. Lamprecht cruises in the mid-190s and has reportedly cranked it up as high as 210 miles per hour on the driving range.
In the 12 previous Open Championships held at Royal Liverpool, no amateur had recorded a round in the 60s. Only one amateur in history has ever recorded a lower opening round than Lamprecht’s 66: Tom Lewis, who shot 65 at Royal St George’s back in 2011. Lamprecht is believed to be the tallest player ever to hold the lead at a major championship. A rising senior at Georgia Tech, maybe he can give new head basketball coach Damon Stoudamire some minutes this winter. The last amateur to finish in the top five at The Open was another big man — 6-6 Chris Wood back in 2008.
2. Playing just 20 miles north of where he grew up, Tommy Fleetwood delighted the galleries at Hoylake Thursday with an opening 66, the lowest first round of his major championship career. Fleetwood is now a combined 33-under-par at The Open Championship since 2018, the best cumulative total of any player in that span. The Englishman gained strokes through the bag on Thursday, but was especially deft on the greens, ranking fifth in the field in strokes gained putting.
In recent years, slow starts have plagued Fleetwood in the majors. Entering this week, Fleetwood was a combined 15-over-par in round 1 of major championships since the beginning of 2021. Those numbers get better as the week progresses: 5-over in round 2, and 10-under-par on the weekends. Fleetwood has been one of the most balanced performers on the PGA Tour this season – he’s the only player currently ranked in the top 30 in every strokes gained category. Will this be the week he breaks through with his first major win?
Tommy Fleetwood stood on the 18th green at Royal Liverpool, took off his hat and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
— Dan Sheldon (@dansheldonsport) July 20, 2023
3. Emiliano Grillo is the third member of our leading triumvirate, nailing a 51-foot birdie putt at 18 to join Lamprecht and Fleetwood atop the board. That birdie at the last wasn’t just his longest of the day – it’s the longest putt he’s made all season. Grillo makes his money week-in and week-out being one of the better iron players on tour, though, and that didn’t change today. The Argentine picked up more than 3.5 strokes on the field with his approach play Thursday, fourth-most of any player.
Hoylake has some significant ties to Argentina in its past: Royal Liverpool is the site of Roberto de Vicenzo’s lone major championship victory at the 1967 Open. Before Grillo, the last player from Argentina to lead or co-lead after the first round of The Open was Vicente Fernandez at Royal Birkdale in 1971. Grillo’s two best major championship finishes have both come at The Open – a tie for 12th in both 2016 and 2021.
4. Three players carded rounds of 67, putting them each one shot back after Thursday. Among them is PGA Tour veteran Brian Harman, one of four players to finish in the top 20 at The Open the last two years. Harman entered this week on a nice run of form, finishing 12th or better in each of his last three starts. Thursday, he lit up the greens at Hoylake, ranking second in the field in strokes gained putting (+4.12).
Reigning U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark headlines a group of six players who shot 67. Clark acquitted himself nicely in his first major round since becoming a major winner, hitting 14 of 18 greens and carding just one bogey. In the first 16 rounds of his major career, Clark shot under par just twice. He’s now done it in four of his last five rounds in the game’s biggest events. The last player to win the U.S. Open and The Open Championship in the same season was Tiger Woods in 2000.
5. Despite a pair of sixes on his scorecard, Jordan Spieth shot a 2-under-par round of 69, putting him squarely in the mix headed to Friday. The 2017 Open winner is a fixture at this championship, leading all players in score to par (-56), rounds in the 60s (20) and birdies or better per round (4.52) since 2015. After putting his name all over the “youngest since” section of the PGA Tour and major championship record books, it would be fitting if Spieth snuck in another big win right before he says goodbye to his 20s (he turns 30 next week).
6. Five seems to be the magic number when it comes to sifting through who’s still got a realistic shot at winning this thing. Since 1970, 50 of 52 Open champions have been within five shots of the lead after the opening round. Nobody has come from more than five off the pace after day 1 to win since Mark O’Meara in 1998 – two-and-a-half years before Lamprecht was born. Each of the 12 previous Open winners at Royal Liverpool were within five of the lead after 18 holes, too. That’s not a good historical precedent for many of the game’s best, like Cameron Smith (+1), Collin Morikawa (+2) and Jon Rahm (+3).
7. Scottie Scheffler (-1) and Rory McIlroy (even-par) are statistically the two best ball strikers in the men’s game today. They rank 1-2 this season on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green per round. They rank 1-2 in strokes gained ball striking per round in the majors the last two years. They ranked 1-2 last week at the Scottish Open in tee-to-green performance, too. Both were mostly terrific when making full swings Thursday, combining to gain more than eight strokes on the field with their drives and approach shots alone.
The shortest club in the bag was a different story. Scheffler – who has not ranked in the top 30 in strokes gained putting in any PGA Tour event since February – ranked 129th in the field Thursday on the greens. McIlroy lost more than half a stroke putting in round 1, just days after ranking in the top five in that metric in the final round of his Scottish Open win.
It feels odd to say this about a man who has spent his professional career obliterating par 5s, but McIlroy’s closing par at 18 today was a majorly positive moment. After being jailed for a stroke by a greenside pot bunker, McIlroy’s make from 10 feet to finish up the round meant he played his last six holes bogey-free. It also kept him within five of the leaders, a number we highlighted the significance of earlier.
8. After an opening round 82, it’s officially time to worry about Justin Thomas. The former world number one has now had back-to-back scores of 80 or higher in the majors following his second round 81 last month at LACC. Thomas is one of just four players to have multiple rounds of 80-plus in the majors in 2023. The other three are 65-year-old Sandy Lyle, Shaun Micheel (who hasn’t played a major other than the PGA in more than a decade), and PGA club professional Chris Sanger.
While the Ryder Cup is invariably on people’s minds, there’s another deadline on the immediate horizon. Thomas entered the week 75th in the FedExCup standings – currently outside the top-70 cutoff for advancing to the PGA Tour postseason. Nobody has made the cut at The Open after a first round of 82 or higher since 1999. That would leave Thomas with just two events – next week’s 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship – to push into playoff position.
The 17th hole at Hoylake on Day 1.
With 1️⃣0️⃣6️⃣ pars, the best in the world were scared to take it on.
There was drama, agony, a ‘mare’ + heckling, a miraculous sand save & Henrik Stenson nearly had an ace.
Fun day, fun sport @TheAthleticFC https://t.co/S4sSnkQDzc
— Gregg Evans (@greggevans40) July 20, 2023
9. Reigning PGA champion Brooks Koepka played his last eight holes in 3-under to get back under par. Buttoning things up with the driver would go a long way moving forward – Koepka hit just eight fairways Thursday despite ranking 65th in the field in driver use, choosing lesser club six times on par 4s and 5s. Through three majors this year, Koepka gained more than 8.4 strokes on the field on shots off the tee. He lost strokes in that statistic in round one.
When Koepka starts a major with even moderate success, he seems inevitable. This is the 18th time he has started a major with an opening round under par. In 10 of the previous 17 instances, he finished in the top five. Koepka’s consistency is remarkable in the majors. Since 2016, 29.5 percent of all major rounds played have resulted in scores under par. For Koepka, that number is more than 59 percent.
10. Eleven of the last 12 men’s major championship winners have been tied for ninth place or better after the opening round. When thinking about positioning for the weekend, consider this: less than 10 percent of Open winners the last 100 years have been outside the top 10 entering round 3. The last two men to win the Claret Jug, Morikawa and Smith, each went low on Friday, both carding rounds of 64.
(Top photo of Christo Lamprecht: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)