HOYLAKE – The British Open showed again Thursday that even after 163 years, golf's oldest championship can still deliver a few surprises.
It started with Christo Lamprecht, the South African amateur as tall as a flag stick and almost as thin, making three birdies over his last six holes and posting a 5-under 66 to become the first amateur in 12 years to share the 18-hole lead at the Open.
Curiosity about the 22-year-old amateur turned to glee at the site of the local hero, Tommy Fleetwood, running off three straight birdies on the back nine at Royal Liverpool to join him atop the leaderboard. Emiliano Grillo of Argentina became the third to post 66 by holing a birdie putt from 50 feet on the last hole.
Not to be overlooked was Jordan Spieth hitting a shank; Rory McIlroy missing a 3-foot putt; Justin Thomas going bunker-to-bunker-to-rough — each shot farther away from the flag than the previous one — in making a 9 on the 18th hole to post his highest round in a major at 82.
McIlroy, trying desperately to end his nine-year drought in the majors, was happy to get away with a 71. He risked the round getting away from him until making up for that wee miss on the eighth hole with a 40-foot birdie on the 14th that sparked him.
And then it almost got away from him in the end — just like the bunkers on the 18th ruined so many other rounds — when he left one in the pot bunker and expertly got out the second time and made a 10-foot par.
Scottie Scheffler, the world's No. 1 player, got around in 70 in the morning before the breeze turned into a stiff wind.
Masters champion Jon Rahm reached a point where he felt nothing was going his way, and it wasn't. He hit what he thought was a good shot into the 18th only for it to find a bunker, forcing him to play back toward the fairway and turning a birdie chance into bogey. Rahm opened with a 74.
“It does ask a lot of questions, this golf course,” an exasperated Shane Lowry said after a 72.
What it left behind after the longest day — 15 hours of golf — were few answers.
Fleetwood raised hopes of becoming the first English winner of a British Open in England since Tony Jacklin in 1969. He kept his own hopes measured, fully aware of gallery support for the long-haired lad raised about an hour up the coast.
“First day, so this was a pretty good one,” Fleetwood said. “All I want to do is keep working hard, keep playing, and keep putting myself in position. And obviously, it'll be my turn soon.”
The biggest surprise to everyone but the 6-foot-8 (2.03 meters) Lamprecht was seeing an amateur atop the leaderboard at the final major of the year. He qualified by winning the British Amateur at Hillside, a links course just north of Liverpool on the Lancashire coast.
“The first tee shot was the only bit of nerves I had all day,” said Lamprecht, an All-American at Georgia Tech. "Yeah, I just kind of walked off the first tee box after hitting my snap-hook drive, and my caddie just told me, ‘Listen, you’re playing The Open as an amateur; no need to stress.’
“We kind of had fun from there.”
The last amateur to share the 18-hole lead at the Open was Tom Lewis at Royal St. George's in 2011. Irish amateur Paul Dunne shared the 54-hole lead at St. Andrews in 2015.
Lamprecht appreciates it's unusual for an amateur to hold his own against the pros, at a major championship no less. But that's where it ends.
“I think I earned my spot to be here,” he said. “I think the way I played today, I earned to be on the top of the leaderboard. It's not a cocky thing to say. I just personally think I believe in myself, and I guess stepping onto the first tee box ... you should be believing that you should be the best standing there.”
Brian Harman, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Antoine Rozner of France each birdied the 18th and were at 67. The group at 68 included U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark, 50-year-old former British Open champion Stewart Cink and Max Homa.
Spieth was at 69, a strong start considering the shank he hit from tall grass and the golf ball above his feet on the eighth hole. The ball was declared lost and he made double bogey.
“I’ve never hit one before, so it took me a couple holes to feel like I got my feet back under me,” Spieth said. He did just that until finding a pot bunker off the tee and finished with a bogey.
The bunkers were frightening, with players unsure if the ball would settle in the middle or be up against the revetted, sodden walls. Either way, it was about as penal as a water hazard.
“That’s why they’re there,” Rahm said. “You have to try to avoid them. Plenty of people did a good job and shot a low score today. It’s very difficult to avoid them all.”
The bunkers around the 18th were particularly diabolical. There were 19 scores of double bogey or worse on the closing hole on Thursday. The last time at Royal Liverpool in 2014, there were 26 doubles or worse the entire tournament.
Thirty-one players managed to break par, and players like McIlroy at even par hardly shot themselves out of the championship.
“I needed to stay patient out there. It wasn’t the easiest of days,” McIlroy said. “But I’m still right in there.”
McIlroy won the last time at Royal Liverpool, opening with rounds of 66-66 and going on to a wire-to-wire win at 17-under par. Tiger Woods won in Hoylake in 2006 at 18 under.
This is a different Royal Liverpool, slightly lengthened and with a new par-3 17th hole that wreaked havoc for some — Phil Mickelson made double bogey, Lucas Herbert a triple — but this day was all about the bunkers.
“It’s the most well-bunkered golf course that we play,” Lowry said. “They’re everywhere, and they’re very penal.”