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Fleetwood aims to build on his US heroics

 

By Phil Casey

Tommy Fleetwood will never forget being the poster boy of The Open Championship on home soil, but feels he is more deserving of being among the title favourites this time around.

Fleetwood used to sneak on to Royal Birkdale as a kid, the 27-year-old from Southport admitting the course was "forbidden fruit" of which he had little experience despite living nearby.

That did not stop the hype and expectation building after he had finished fourth in the US Open a month earlier and, despite an opening 76, Fleetwood battled back to make his first cut in The Open, eventually finishing in a tie for 27th.

Twelve months on, Fleetwood arrives at Carnoustie following an even better US Open display, the World No.10 agonisingly missing from eight feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to equal the all-time Major record of 62 set by Branden Grace at Royal Birkdale.

Fleetwood's 63 still matched the lowest score in US Open history and set a testing clubhouse target on two-over par, with defending champion Brooks Koepka the only player able to beat it - by a single shot - thanks to a nerveless 68.

"Last year was just a very special experience," Fleetwood said. "I didn't get off to the start I wanted to, but the week as a whole just doesn't happen to everybody.

"It's not very often that you play an Open where you grow up and I was having a really good year, and it happened to be that I was kind of the face of an Open Championship which was in my home town.

"I think I was very lucky in that sense that I got to experience that, and I'll always have that. Last year I hadn't made the cut in an Open before, but I was kind of one of the favourites to win it.

"There's no really good reason why I couldn't do it (this year). It really doesn't matter what's happened in the past. The only thing they do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do.

"But the good thing about having results like the US Open is that it was more proof that I can finish 72 holes right up there. One shot is a quarter of a shot a round, so it's not that much at the end of the day."

Fleetwood's position among the tournament favourites is also a result of him holding the course record of 63 at Carnoustie, although that was set during the Dunhill Links Championship, a pro-am event played annually in October.

"It is a completely different course, I've never played it this firm or fast," Fleetwood added. "Shots that you've hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.

"The greens are still pretty receptive. It doesn't do any harm to have played it for a few years and have a course record, but it's a completely different challenge to what we normally face."

Patrick Reed's victory in The Masters and Koepka's title defence in the US Open meant American players continued to hold all four Major titles, with Jordan Spieth hoping to hold on to the Claret Jug at Carnoustie.

"It will be nice to break that run," Fleetwood said. "I know we're all trying to do it."

Meanwhile, in the absence of 1999 champion Paul Lawrie, out through injury, fellow Scot and 1985 winner Sandy Lyle will hit Thursday's opening tee shot at 06.35.

Lyle is joined by two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer and England's Andy Sullivan, with former Masters champion Danny Willett also getting an early start at 06.57.

Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson tees off at 08.03, with defending champion Jordan Spieth starting at 09.58 alongside Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Rory McIlroy, who lifted the Claret Jug in 2014, tees off at 12.53 alongside Australia's Marc Leishman and Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen.

Belfast Telegraph

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