Ryan Fox makes history at the Open Championship with back-nine 29

Ryan Fox in action at Portrush
Ryan Fox in action at Portrush

Ryan Fox surged into contention in the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush, while amateur James Sugrue was pleased with his start.

Fox makes history

New Zealander Ryan Fox surged into contention in the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush after posting the lowest back nine in the tournament's history.

What was more remarkable about his achievement was that he was three over with seven holes to play but strung together six birdies down the stretch to propel himself into contention on day one.

The son of rugby's former All Black Grant - playing in his fourth Open - had missed the cut in his previous seven regular tour events.

"That's pretty cool. I did actually ask my caddie 'Has anyone shot 29 for nine holes in a major?' - I'm sure that's happened - and he just said 'Shut up and just hole the putts'," he said after signing for a three-under 68.

"To be honest I've been struggling lately and this is the first day it's felt pretty decent, ball striking-wise.

"I walked off the front nine pretty p***ed off to be honest and then I holed an eight-footer for birdie on 12 and it relaxed me a little bit.

"It's the first time I've had fun on a golf course for a while and you don't expect to do that but it was nice to just enjoy being part of such a great event.

"I don't think I quite got in the zone - I know that sounds strange but I've only been in it once or twice before when it gets to a point where you just see it and hit it.

"But it certainly wasn't like that. I don't think this golf course lets you do that because you have to think about so many humps and hollows."

Sugrue makes solid start

Amateur Championship winner James Sugrue overcame his initial nerves to card a level-par round of 71 to match playing partner, local favourite and former winner Darren Clarke.

The 22-year-old from County Cork was paired with the Northern Irishman in the first group out on the opening day.

Crowds lined the fairway to welcome Clarke, who has lived in the village for several years and has a house overlooking the links, and it provided a daunting start.

"I was definitely the most nervous I've ever been on the golf course this morning when I looked up at the grandstand and it was just packed," he said.

"And Darren walked on in front of me and the roar was just unbelievable. I was very nervous for the first and the second.

"I birdied the second, it set me in a little bit, and just enjoyed it really from there on in."

England expects

Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood led the Royal Portrush charge for a first English winner at The Open since Nick Faldo in 1992.

They all posted a three-under 68 to peg a crucial foothold after a hectic first day in Northern Ireland.

While Hatton was happy to nudge closer towards a feel-good factor after a post-Ryder Cup slump, Fleetwood revealed the secret to his bogey-free round was easing the self-imposed stress.

"It's been a bit of a come-down after the Ryder Cup and it's fair to say that I have struggled this year," said Hatton, who starred in Europe's victory over the USA in Paris in September 2018.

"But my game feels in a good place, and hopefully I can keep playing well and that will lift my spirits.

"I've driven pretty well all day, although I wasn't hitting it too close, I wasn't making many mistakes.

"That allowed me a solid score and I picked up a couple of shots as well, which is nice.

"I had a nice finish last week at the Scottish Open, but all you can do is try your best. Today it worked out for me.

"It's pretty special, this is my eighth Open so I've got a bit of experience there. The crowds here are great.

"There's just a great buzz around here, we've gone out for dinner the last few nights and obviously it's packed. And it's just a good atmosphere to be in, and we're all enjoying the week.

"I'd like to say I go unnoticed when I'm out and about, as no one knows me anyway, so it's fine. So I just go about my life and do what I do."

Fleetwood eased around Northern Ireland's testing north coast course, completing a serene and error-free round where others battled through wind, rain and personal frustrations.

The 28-year-old admitted he shook off the personal pressure to avoid dropping any shots, in a very tidy first-round performance.

"Any time you're going to go bogey free at a major, take it and run," said Fleetwood.

"I played really consistently, so I'm just happy with that.

"I conducted the round very well today so I'm pleased. I hit it well, I was very consistent, I was always in play, pretty much. And that's obviously vital.

"But I think in terms of the bogey free - which is the best part of the day - I made it really stress-free. It wasn't like I was grinding it all out."

The 46-year-old Westwood, playing in his 25th consecutive Open, has had one runners-up finish, two thirds and a fourth but has not finished in the top 20 in his last five outings at the event.

"It was nice to shoot a low score the first round of the tournament and get right in there. You just take it one day at a time, obviously," he said.

"I've seen all this before. I'm just out there enjoying myself."

Home favourite Rory McIlroy by contrast slumped to a demoralising 79 on the course where he first played as a 10-year-old.

Fleetwood posted a 76 at home course Royal Birkdale when the Southport course hosted The Open in 2017, and has plenty of sympathy for McIlroy's plight.

"I can only speak on a personal level when Birkdale came around and the feelings I got on the tee," said Fleetwood. "I suppose aside from the Ryder Cup I've never quite had anything like that.

"The support is amazing and really you have to experience it to take it away and know what to do.

"I did a terrible job of it day one, I shot six over. I loved it, but it comes with pressure. It's only yourself that will put that pressure on, because you want to do well for everybody. You're at home and it's a special occasion.

"Not everybody even gets to play a home event, let alone it be a home event and also the biggest event in the world.

"Certain pressures come with that, but it's all in a positive light and it's so good to see so many people out there.

"Golf's hard! It's Rory McIlroy, and to this day he's one of, if not, the greatest players I've ever seen.

"So I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him go out tomorrow and shoot a great score. He's not actually out of the tournament.

"It's easy to focus on the bad day that he's had, but at the end of the day it's Rory McIlroy and you don't know what he could do next.

"It is difficult but of course when it's not going your way, and you're trying your hardest in front of your home crowd, it just adds up a little bit. But I'm sure that he'll come back just fine."

Justin Rose kept himself in the hunt for glory with a steady two under, along with Ashton Turner.

"Today was a good day of links golf," said Rose. "For me the wind today was a perfect amount on a links course.

"It separates the guys who were playing well from the guy who aren't and doesn't make it just about a putting competition.

"This a good thing for me to build on. I think today was an important round just to get under my belt, and I know I can kick on from here."

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