Golf: Impressive Pyman displays his wares on professional stage: Guy Hodgson reports from Royal St George's, Sandwich, on the fearless first round of the Amateur champion, who marked his Open Championship debut with a 68

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The Independent Online
SOMEONE, somewhere must have known something. Iain Pyman had been at the top of the Open Championship leaderboard before but only when the operators needed some practice on Tuesday. Yesterday he showed how prescient the rehearsal had been.

Only the score was wrong. It had read three under par in the dry run two days earlier, which flattered the 20-year-old from Leeds, who ended yesterday two strokes to the good of the pernicious Royal St George's par of 70. But when you are an amateur who has put the vast bulk of your professional rivals in the shade in your first round at the Open, who's counting.

Well, Pyman actually. 'Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted with a 68,' he said. 'It could have been a lot worse but it could have been better. A fair score? Ooh, a 66 I suppose. I'd have been over the moon if I'd got that.' Even so, a 68 will have made for a lively conversation last night during the phone call he makes to his grandmother in Whitby after every round he plays.

Most Opens throw up an unlikely figure on or around the first day. Twelve months ago it was Daren Lee, this year you could take your pick from Pyman, Craig Cassells or Ian Garbutt (all 68). None looked more out of place among the elite yesterday, however, than the 20-year-old Amateur champion who picked up a club at 14 only because he was fed up with watching his mother, Barbara, on the practice range. With his first shot the ball rocketed away straight and true. He was hooked.

Six years and an equal number of course records on and the tale that incorporated his Amateur Championship victory at Royal Portrush in May was looking more unlikely. After two holes of a miserably wet morning in his first professional tournament, he was one under par on a course that has yielded only one four-round score better than par in 12 Opens. After seven he was three under and heading a leaderboard that included Nick Faldo, Mark Calcavecchia and Paul Azinger.

The bubble was bound to deflate. It did, but it resolutely refused to burst. Never more so than on the 17th, when a horribly hooked approach left him 20 yards wide of the green. Pyman needed to go over a bunker to reach the flag and although he managed that - no mean feat with his round ready to cave in under him - he finished 20 feet from the flag. Later he said that his putting had let him down; on this occasion he discovered the perfect line.

It has been a close to perfect week for Pyman, whose father, Dennis, a three-handicapper himself, is his caddie at Sandwich. 'We went as spectators two years ago,' he said, 'and I promised then he'd get to come if I ever played in the Open. He knows my game better than anyone but he doesn't interfere. He only offers advice when I ask him.'

On Monday Pyman played a practice round with Seve Ballesteros, who helped cure a fault in the youngster's address to the ball, and two days ago his playing companions were John Daly and Fuzzy Zoeller. 'I tried John's driver,' he said. 'It felt like I was using a scaffolding pole.'

Yesterday his partners were the three-times winner of the Open, Gary Player, and Larry Mize, who took the role of the successful unknown to ridiculous lengths in 1987 by winning the Masters. 'I felt nervous at the first hole,' Pyman said, 'but once I'd hit a straight drive I was OK. It was a relaxed atmosphere. There was a much bigger crowd than I expected, I wouldn't have been watching at 7.30am.'

The danger now is the anticlimactic slump that normally afflicts one-day wonders and the equally precarious adjustment from amateur to professional golf. 'I'm aware that there is a huge step,' said Pyman, who will play in the Walker Cup in Minnesota next month, and will probably turn professional after next year's Open. 'You are at the top of one type of golf and then start at the bottom again. Jose Maria Olazabal is the only one who has successfully made the transition in recent years.'

And the second round? 'I'll just worry about the first tee-shot and then enjoy myself,' he replied. 'I've come to Sandwich determined to make the most of the occasion.'

Making the half-way cut after a good round today will do nicely.