Hopes of home winner at Open rise after strong start for English


opes of a first home winner of the Open for 29 years got off to a good start as a trio of Englishman made strong showings towards the top of the leaderboard.

Paul Casey completed the front nine in two-under par, while Andy Sullivan shared the same score in the midst of something of a rollercoaster round to leave them both a shot off early leader Brian Harman.

No Englishman has won The Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and, with Casey at least, there were echoes of the last time the event was held at Royal St George’s in 2011 when Darren Clarke won the Claret Jug at the age of 42.

Casey is a year older than Clarke was and has been enjoying a strong season, with top-10 finishes at the last two Majors — fourth at the PGA Championship and seventh at the US Open.

He got off to the best possible start as wind whipped across the course in Sandwich with a birdie on his opening hole and another on the third to reach the halfway point at two-under and without a dropped shot.

For the less-heralded Sam Horsfield, a 24-year-old who missed the cut at last week’s Scottish Open but is a winner on the European Tour this season, it was a similar story. His front nine consisted of two birdies in a round otherwise full of pars. But he dropped a shot at the 11th to leave him a stroke behind Casey and Sullivan.

In contrast, it was a more undulating round for Sullivan, who mixed three birdies with two bogeys on the front nine and then began the back nine with a birdie and a bogey before picking up another shot at the 15th.

The event marks the wholesale return of fans, with 32,000 expected each day, much to the delight of defending champion Shane Lowry, who said: “Playing in front of fans does it for me, not playing in front of fans doesn’t — that’s just the way it is.”

However, he had a far from ideal start when he sent his drive off the opening tee way right and dropped a shot with a tough missed par putt. A second bogey followed at the next hole.

The early benchmark came from American Harman. The 34-year-old had missed the cut at all four of his previous Open Championships but had an electric start, with birdies on the opening three holes.

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