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The Open: Towering Georgia Tech amateur Christo Lamprecht powers into early share of lead

<i>Oisin Keniry/R&A/Getty Images</i><br/>Emiliano Grillo of Argentina looks on alongside caddy James Baker on the 18th hole during Day One of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 20 in Hoylake
Oisin Keniry/R&A/Getty Images
Emiliano Grillo of Argentina looks on alongside caddy James Baker on the 18th hole during Day One of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 20 in Hoylake

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — At six feet, eight inches tall, amateur golfer Christo Lamprecht towered over most of the field at the Open Championship even before he teed off Thursday. By the end of the first round, the same applied to the leaderboard.

The South African, a student and two-time All American college golfer at Georgia Tech, tore round Royal Liverpool with a blistering five-under 66 to race to the front at the 151st edition of the major, where he was subsequently joined by England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.

Having turned 22 in January, Lamprecht stamped his ticket to Merseyside with triumph at the Amateur Championship at nearby Hillside in June, a win that also secured him exemptions for next year’s Masters and US Open.

Third in the men’s world amateur golf rankings, Lamprecht is making his PGA Tour debut this week, but cut the look of a seasoned pro as he boomed his way around the historic links course, boasting the first round’s third highest average driving distance at 325 yards.

Six birdies helped Lamprecht become the first player in four years to hold the lead or co-lead on their maiden PGA Tour start since 2018, and the first on their major debut since Andrew Landry at the 2016 US Open, according to PGA Tour Communications.

He’s in uncharted waters, but seeing his name atop the leaderboard was not surprising to Lamprecht.

“As an amateur, yes, it is. But in my own head, no, it’s not,” he told reporters.

“I’m very hard on myself, and I think I earned my spot to be here. The way I played today I earned to be on the top of the leaderboard, as of now.

“It’s not a cocky thing to say. I just personally think I believe in myself, and I guess stepping on to the first tee box if you’re a professional or a competitor, you should be believing that you should be the best standing there.

I’m very proud of it. I’m a little bit surprised, obviously, naturally, but I played good golf today.”

Merseyside-born Fleetwood was roared round the course as he made a strong start to his pursuit of a fairytale first major title, shooting the lowest opening major round of his career.

The 32-year-old has won six times on the European Tour (DP World Tour) but has endured a string of near-misses in golf’s flagship events, including an Open runner-up finish at Royal Portrush in 2019.

A proud Evertonian, few winners would be more popular with locals come Sunday, especially given no Englishman has won his national Open since Nick Faldo in 1992.

“You can’t ask for more from the fans and the support,” Fleetwood said.

“They were great, from the first tee onwards, throughout the round, the way they were down the last hole there, the reception I got.

“Such a special opportunity to play so close to home, to have that support and play an Open – glad I gave them some good golf to watch.”

Grillo is similarly chasing a first major. A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, the 30-year-old’s best major finishes both came at The Open, as he tied 12th in 2016 and 2021.

Surprise frontrunners

The leading trio head a host of surprise names at the top of the leaderboard, with many of the game’s biggest stars enduring difficult starts.

France’s Antoine Rozner, Spain’s Adrian Otaegui and American Brian Harman sit one shot off the lead. At 50-years-old, 2009 champion Stewart Cink rolled back the years with a bogey-free 68, and he is joined in the group of five at three-under by last month’s US Open champion and American compatriot Wyndham Clark.

Local hero and Royal Liverpool’s own Matthew Jordan is joined at two-under by 2017 champion Jordan Spieth and his American compatriot Brooks Koepka, chasing his second major of the season after PGA Championship victory.

Rory McIlroy’s latest bid to end his nine-year major drought got off to a steady start, as the Northern Irishman – who lifted the Claret Jug the last time the major was hosted at Royal Liverpool in 2014 – shot even-par 71.

McIlroy is three shots ahead of Spanish world No. 3 Jon Rahm, who will need a big response if he is to add to his Masters triumph in April.

Two-time major champion Justin Thomas’ frustrating year continued, as he slid to an 11-over par, one short of the highest score of the field. It puts the American on track to miss the cut at three of the year’s four majors, with a tied-65th finish at the PGA Championship the only time he made the weekend.

Friday’s second round gets underway at 6:35 a.m. BST (1:35 a.m. ET).

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