There is a boy-wonder atop the Open leaderboard, but not the boy-wonder everybody – or indeed, anybody – expected. Tom Lewis eclipsed Rory McIlroy and all but Thomas Bjorn in his debut major by shooting the lowest score by an amateur in the 151-year history of the Championship.
The 20-year-old hails from Welwyn Garden City, the same town as Sir Nick Faldo. And England's greatest himself would have been proud of this 65. Playing with the 61-year-old Tom Watson, Lewis dared to restate what is and isn't possible from a player from the unpaid ranks. Make no mistake, British golf hailed a new star in Kent yesterday.
What an opening day this was. It began with Bjorn producing a highly emotional performance on the links which so cruelly denied him eight years ago and finished with a boy half the Dane's age stealing the headlines. By last night they were calling Lewis "the new Rory". And seeing as the Rory is "the new Tiger" that is high praise indeed.
Of course, the hype machine was to go into overdrive. Not since Sir Michael Bonallack led the professionals at Carnoustie in 1968 has an amateur led the Open. Tiger Woods did not hold an end-of-a-day lead at the Open as an amateur. Neither did those other two child phenomena – Justin Rose and McIlroy. Yes, what Lewis achieved yesterday was genuinely incredible. Just think, no amateur has led any major in 35 years.
"He could be my grandson," said Watson looking on with disbelief in his eyes. Lewis was named after Watson and very rarely has anyone taken the majesty as well as the name. True, Lewis did enjoy the best of the weather, the morning winds dropping to barely a zephyr by the time he finished at 7.20pm. But look down the leaderboard and approximate the scale of the feat. Lewis beat Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the world Nos 1 and 2, by six shots. He beat McIlroy, the game's hottest property, by the same margin. It would be impossible to overstate the shock Lewis's breakthrough caused throughout the game.
Lewis single-putted the first eight greens. A 10-foot putt on the first set up his incredible journey. "I hit a great shot on the third, which settled my nerves," he said. It was to be the first of seven birdies. Lewis bounced back from bogeys on the 11th and 13th with four birdies in a row from the 14th. That simply doesn't happen when Sandwich is playing this demanding. The up and down in front of the packed grandstands only emphasised the lad's coolness. By then, Lewis was the name on every pair of lips. What a way to announce yourself.
It had been a raw day on the links, both in the weather and the emotion. It was certainly all too much for Bjorn. The Dane broke down in tears after shooting his own 65. It was not the memories of Royal St George's 2003 which triggered the floodgates, but rather the thought of his father, Ole, who died after a long illness in May. "He meant a lot to me," said Bjorn, the droplets rolling down his cheeks. "He would have been very proud of what I did today. That's all I've really got to say."
It was enough and Bjorn had quite clearly been through enough. Sandwich awoke yesterday believing it was about to be given a glimpse of the Open's future; instead it glimpsed both the future and the Open's past. Everything about Bjorn's five-under magnificence – compiled in the very worst of the winds – seemed significant. The fact he was first reserve and secured his berth only when Vijay Singh withdrew on Monday; the fact he has been on a wretched run of form brought on by his grief. But from a golfing perspective it was the facts of the venue and the tournament which screamed with resonance. What golf takes away it very occasionally giveth back.
The 16th was the reimbursement counter. On the last occasion he played this 163-yard par three, Bjorn infamously took three strokes to extricate himself from a greenside bunker. He was two clear with three holes remaining of the 132nd Open. The rest is history, but the present was almost hysteria. He thought his nine-iron was trap-bound again. But it scraped over and took a fortuitous bounce before rolling to within eight feet. The resulting two summed up the contrast perfectly. His demons were suddenly scattered all over Kent. But then, the 40-year-old announced the return had not bothered him greatly. "I've realised this year there's more important things to life than golf," he said. The moisture had remained in his eyes, but so his chest puffed out as he considered he is 80th in the world and that since taking an eight-week break around his father's death has a best finish of 57th in five events. "I'm proud of how I carried it all the way to the end," added Bjorn. "I never allowed my mind to wander, I stayed with my golf. I promised myself I would do that, that I would go and focus on every single shot ahead of me and go after every single shot. I did that."
"How?" should be the question. Within 24 hours Bjorn was signing for his lowest round ever in the Open Championship – by three strokes. What a bizarre old game.
There were other notables on the scoreboard, not least Miguel-Angel Jimenez sharing third with the Americans Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson. The Spaniard is 47 but continues to amaze as he carries that very unsporting frame around the game's best tournaments. The par save on the last was classic links play. Drive into the thick rough, take your punishment, chip out and then plonk a wedge to a few feet. "On links, any age can be found on the leaderboard," he said. "Experience and patience is something that age gives to you, no?"
Don't ask Lewis that question, or indeed McIlroy. He received a thunderous welcome, but then proceeded to three-putt the first and then bogey the third as well. Where was all the brilliance from Congressional three weeks before when he set records in winning the US Open by eight shots? Golf isn't like that. Nobody can turn it on and off like a tap. Not even Woods. But what he and the other greats could do was grind it out and in many respects that is what McIlroy achieved yesterday. He will probably be delighted that Lewis has arrived to divert the spotlight.
Donald and Westwood are on the same mark, the latter producing a fine fightback from being three-over with five to go. Meanwhile further up the leader board on two-under are the Ulstermen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell and the world No 3, Martin Kaymer. All great players and all perfectly placed. But none of them is amateur, none of them is 20 and none of them is an Englishman playing his very first major. The tale of Tom Lewis – a golfing fairytale.
Open at a glance...
An up-and-down round of 71 (one over par) from the most popular Ulsterman since George Best.
Verdict Still well in mix
The World No 1
England's Mr Metronome slightly misplaced his radar but fought back to card the same clubhouse score as McIlroy.
Verdict In contention
Best of British
The 33-year-old Yorkshireman has struggled to make a major impact but cleaned up with a superb 68.
Verdict Tough task ahead
What a story! So close here in 2003; a last-minute sub this time; recently lost his father but then ripped it apart.
Verdict Expect a slide
Miguel Angel Jimenez
The cigar-chomping Spaniard is everyone's favourite uncle but he took his slippers off to record a stunning 66.
Verdict Close, no cigar
The 51-year-old was supping beer in Sandwich on Wednesday night and was first out at 6.41am but still finished one under.
Verdict American dreamer
Royal St George's Golf Club, Sandwich (GB or Irl unless stated, par 70)
65 T Bjorn (Den); T Lewis
66 M A Jimenez (Sp); L Glover (US)
68 S Dyson; K Stanley (US); P Larrazabal (Sp); D Clarke; G McDowell; M Kaymer (Ger)
69 D Willett; M Calcavecchia (US); R Moore (US); Y Ikeda (Japan); I Poulter; A Hansen (Den); A Noren (Swe); S-Y Noh (S Kor); R McEvoy; C Campbell (US); E Molinari (It); A Scott (Aus); B Watson (US); S Stricker (US)
70 G Storm; F Jacobson (Swe); S Gallacher; S Cink (US); D Johnson (US); R Fowler (US); S Garcia (Sp); P Whiteford; R Green (Aus); T Immelman (SA); T Takayama (Japan); P Mickelson (US)
71 S Khan; KJ Choi (S Kor); P Uihlein (US); R McIlroy; L Donald; C Villegas (Col); R Fisher; M Millar (Aus); K Ferrie; R Sabbatini (SA); C Howell III (US); Y Yang (S Kor); B MacPherson (Aus); J Day (Aus); L Westwood; C Schwartzel (SA)
72 G Havert (Fr); C Hoffman (US); M Laird; B Haas (US); A Cabrera (Arg); E Els (SA); J Daly (US); S Levin (US); P Meesawat (Thai); H Frazar (US); A Kim (US); R Karlsson (Swe); Z Johnson (US); J Rose; J Furyk (US)
73 B Van Pelt (US); F Molinari (It); M Manassero (It); P Hanson (Swe); G Bourdy (Fr); P Lawrie; S O'Hair (US); T Olesen (Den); M Laskey; N Schietekat (SA); M Maritz (SA); S Lyle; J Luiten (Neth); L Bjerregaard (Den); P Harrington
74 J Kelly (US); N Green (Aus); G Ogilvy (Aus); N Watney (US); P Casey; R Ishikawa (Japan); J Dufner (US); K Na (US); B Estes (US); T Shadbolt; R Kulacz (Aus); S Lilly; T Aiken (SA); R Jacquelin (Fr); M Wilson (US); S Marino (US); M Kuchar (US)
75 T Jaidee (Thai); R Davies; G Woodland (US); KT Kim (S Kor); A Quiros (Sp); H Fujita (Japan); T Hiratsuka (Japan); H Mahan (US); B Davis; S Jamieson; B Snedeker (US); J Byrd (US)Reuse content