Young Briton Fleetwood blazes a trail in the Scottish sunshine
Yet another day in the blazing Scottish September sun, yet another boy-wonder lighting up England's golfing future.
Tommy Fleetwood underlined the thrilling strength of the burgeoning Brit pack with a 63 here to take the lead at the halfway point of the Dunhill Links.
The 20-year-old from Southport showed his love for the seaside with a blemish-free nine-under magnificence. And so this young pro looked up at the leaderboard and saw the names beneath him. Kaymer, McDowell, McIlroy, Westwood, Donald. A few words summed it up for him. "Cool," he said. "Really cool."
When pressed for more, Fleetwood spelt out the nature of his awe. "I've watched these guys on TV for years, analysing everything they do, trying to learn off them," he said. "Obviously my name is in pretty good company right now."
In truth, it has been threatening to join this exclusive gang for years. At 17, Fleetwood so almost became the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship, before losing to Reiner Saxton in the final. At the time this budding actor had just finished appearing in Macbeth in the school play. But he decided it was a putter he should see before him and so his progress continued.
Fleetwood won the English amateur, appeared at the 2009 Walker Cup and, after turning pro last year, made sure of his European Tour card for next year when winning the £55,000 first prize on the Challenge Tour's Kazakhstan Open last month. Next came this trip to golfing wonderland. "If I can shoot a decent score tomorrow then I could play with somebody like Kaymer or Westwood," he said, after coming within one of Westwood's course record. "That would be really, really cool."
Fleetwood is experienced enough to know the easier-said-than-doneness of that wish. Today, Fleetwood plays Carnoustie and the forecast is far rougher. "This was a great day to play Carnoustie," said McIlroy, after a 67 hauled him to eight-under. "You will never see it easier than this. Tomorrow it could be more difficult."
The heavyweights, meanwhile, go on to St Andrews and will fancy their chances of bringing the Old Course to her knees before Sunday's finale at the same course. Michael Hoey, the joint-leader from Ireland, shot a 66 at the Home of Golf on Thursday and another 66 here yesterday. In conditions on the submissive side of benign, 27 golfers are within five shots of the lead. And it is not merely Fleetwood disproving that youth is wasted on the young.
At 22, McIlroy feels positively medieval on this leaderboard. "I was talking to G-Mac [Graeme McDowell] about it out here today," he said. "A lot of young guys have just turned pro and as I proved when I came third here in 2008, this is a good event to do it, as there's so much money on offer. The guys coming out now, me included, are so much more ready to make that transition. They were basically professionals already and that is why you will see them winning their Tour cards so quickly."
Tom Lewis, the better-known English 20-year-old, is on seven-under, following a 69, while also at Carnoustie James Byrne, Lewis's Walker Cup team-mate, went to six-under. Yesterday's 71 was as bizarre as it was spectacular. "What a ball-striker," said Peter Dawson, the Royal & Ancient chief executive who had a ringside seat for all of the Byrne haymakers.
As his partner in this gargantuan pro-am, Dawson saw Lewis's fellow Walker Cupper hole-in-one on the 13th and eagle the next and, as he had birdied the 12th, it meant he was five-under for a three-hole stretch. "He hits the ball miles, but his distance control was incredible," said Dawson. "But there were a few destructive shots in there as well."
These came on the sixth and the 18th where he took two treble-bogey sevens. That's six dropped shots in two holes. "I'm sure cutting out the mistakes will come with experience," said Dawson. "This seems to be a very bright crop emerging."
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