Rose, Willett and Fleetwood lead England’s charge for first Open winner in 52 years with strong start at St George’s
JUSTIN ROSE declared “We’re Swinging for England” as he led the charge for a first home victory in The Open for 52 years.
The former US Open champion says England’s golfers are painfully aware of the fact that none of them has lifted the Claret Jug aloft in front of their own fans since Tony Jacklin’s famous victory at Royal Lytham in 1969.
But Rose believes there could be no more fitting venue to end the agony than Royal St George’s on the Kent coast.
He said: “Listen, the lads can do it. I can see no reason why not. We’ve all grown up playing lots of links golf to be honest with you, and yeah, it should be a style of golf that we all relish.
“And hopefully, Royal St George’s, with the St George’s cross, is kind of a lucky omen this week.
“The quality of golf that a lot of the English guys are playing is incredibly high, and quite a few of us have had a good look at winning more Majors – Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, and myself.
“There was a lean period of time where just basically it was just Westy flying the flag for us. That was how it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then a few of us began to develop through.
“Right now I think it’s probably as strong a chance as we’ve had – maybe even ever.”
Rose and fellow Major winner Danny Willett head a quintet of English golfers who shot three-under-par 67s in to lie just three back of first round pace-setter Louis Oosthuizen.
They were joined early on by lesser lights Andy Sullivan and Jack Senior, who are both determined to take full advantage of clinching places in the Open field less than week before the show began.
Fleetwood, runner-up to Shane Lowry at Portrush the last time the Claret Jug was up for grabs, then threw his hat into the ring with another gritty 67 – despite having to battle through the strong afternoon winds that confronted the late starters.
Casey, who finished second in last year’s USPGA and fourth in the same event a couple of months ago, opened with a two-under-par 68, compiling one of the few bogey-free rounds seen on day one.
It was no real surprise to see Oosthuizen’s name on the leaderboard. He has become a permanent feature at the head of affairs in the Majors.
But the chasing pack will take heart from the fact the South African is probably playing for second place again.
He was runner-up in the USPGA and the US Open in the past couple of months, taking his number of second place finishes in the Majors to SIX since he was crowned open champion in 2010.
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But the Oosthuizen insisted there is no scar tissue, and he could not have been happier with his 64.
He said “In my mind, that was the perfect round I could have played. I didn’t make many mistakes, and when I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts.
“It gives me confidence going into Majors knowing that I’m still competing in them and I’ve got chances of winning. It definitely puts me in a better frame of mind going into the week.
“It helps that I’ve found a putter I like and stuck with it. I’ve got a bag full of discarded ones at home that I might just throw in a river some day!
“I went through a stage where I changed a lot of putters. Every week we were trying something, but I realised quickly that there’s no way to find any consistency in putting if you do that.
“I found one that I really like the look of, and I sort of worked on it. Going through all of that and finally sticking with just one putter has really helped me a lot.”
Oosthuizen’s nearest challengers are a couple of Americans – diminutive left-hander Brian Harman, and 2017 Open winner Jordan Spieth, both a shot back on five under par.
Spieth took great delight at bumping into John Wood, who was caddying for Matt Kuchar, when he finished runner-up to the Texan at Royal Birkdale four years ago.
Wood is now working for American TV, and Spieth shouted across: “Hey John, it must be like Birkdale all over again for you – watching me make birdie after birdie!”
In that sort of brash mood, Spieth could well prove the man the English hopefuls have to beat this week.