Dyson and Willett in contention but Lewis is the star

TWO Yorkshiremen made fast starts to the Open Championship yesterday on a day when Rory McIlroy and the big guns were upstaged by a young amateur.

Simon Dyson and Danny Willett are three and four shots respectively off the pace set by Thomas Bjorn and English amateur Tom Lewis.

Bjorn defied the blustery early conditions to shoot a 65 on his first visit to Sandwich since blowing the Open eight years ago.

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But with England’s wait for a first major winner since Nick Faldo now standing at 15 years, it was 20-year-old Lewis who stole the show and raised hopes at Royal St George’s.

The Welling amateur fired four birdies in a row as he made the most of the calmer conditions yesterday afternoon to join Bjorn at the top of the leaderboard on five under par.

Lewis was actually named after his father’s golfing hero and his playing partner yesterday, Tom Watson.

And to continue a good day for Yorkshire golf which saw Dyson shoot 68 to Willett’s 69, Lewis is coached by renowned Rotherham tutor Pete Cowen and has his swing analysed by Steve McGregor’s Sport Science Solutions at Rudding Park, Harrogate.

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Lewis, who is the first amateur to share the lead in the Open since 1968, said: “I couldn’t have asked for a better draw, Tom (Watson) was a gentleman throughout.

“To shoot a 65 in front of Tom was excellent.

“But I’ve got to play as well on Friday as I did on Thursday. There’s three days to go.”

Bjorn is also a Cowen pupil. The Dane and the young amateur who is half his age lead by just one shot from Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson.

It was a relatively low-key opening day for McIlroy, who on his first competitive round since romping to the US Open title four weeks ago, shot a one-over par 71.

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He is in good company alongside world No 1 and 2 Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, while only Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter of the major home hopes got into red figures.

While those inauspicious starts by no means signal the end of the challenge from the world’s top players, it did at least leave the door ajar for the likes of Bjorn, Lewis and the two men from the White Rose to take centre stage.

Willett’s Open debut began in the first group out yesterday morning but the 23-year-old from Sheffield was not overawed as he neatly constructed a one-under-par 69.

Playing aggressively off the tee and sensibly to the green, the former English Amateur champion over the Royal St George’s links plans to continue his game plan of controlled aggression today and into the weekend.

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Willett said: “I missed a couple of chances but on the whole I played really nice.

“Even when I missed greens I missed them where I planned to miss them to leave an easy putt or an easy chip. The game plan worked to perfection.

Driving is one of my biggest strengths. There’s certain holes where guys will be laying back but the plan was that if I could take a few of the bunkers out of play, then even if you’re in the rough, you can still make par.

“Even if you’ve not got control of the ball with your second shot at least you’re closer to the flag.

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“It’s controlled aggression. Four scores in the 60s would be nice but right now I’ll just try to keep to the game plan.”

Dyson was back in the clubhouse not long afterwards having negotiated the trickier conditions in 68 shots, despite nursing a lower back injury that requires physio and cortisone injections.

“I’ve been suffering with my lower right back,” said the 33-year-old from Malton.

“It’s not too bad but occasionally I get in a position where it hurts and I come up out of the shot.

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“I had a couple today but managed to not find anything too severe.

“I just need to get the water bottle on my back.”

Dyson was three under and bogey free until he dropped a shot at the last.

But even that did not darken the mood of a player who was only drafted into the tournament from the reserve list last Thursday.

“Eighteen sours it a little bit,” said Dyson, playing his eighth Open.

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“I thought I hit quite a good drive and the wind just took it a little bit sideways and it caught the bunker.

“I was quite pleased to get away with just a bogey but it’s a course where it’s hard to keep a bogey off the card.

“I drove the ball well, managed the ball well and putted nicely.

“I’m putting no expectations on myself. I’ll just go out and enjoy it.”

How they stand: leading scores

65 – T Bjorn (Den), T Lewis

66 – l Glover (US), M A Jimenez (Spa), W Simpson (US)

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68 – J Overton (US), G McDowell, K Stanley (US), M Kaymer (Ger), D Clarke, S Dyson, P Larrazabal (Spa), R Barnes (US), K Barnes (Aus), F Andersson Hed (Swe)

69 – S Noh (Kor), A Hansen (Den), D Willett, R Rock, C Campbell (USA), A Noren (Swe), E Molinari (Ita), S Stricker (US), A Scott (Aus), R McEvoy, B Watson (US), J.B. Holmes (USA), M Calcavecchia (US), R Allenby (Aus), Y Ikeda (Jpn), I Poulter, R Moore (US).

Notable others: 70 – S Garcia (Spa), S Cink (US), P Mickelson (US); 71 – R McIlroy, L Westwood, L Donald; 72 – J Rose, T Watson (US); 73 – P Harrington; 74 – P Casey.