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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Abu Dhabi hero Tommy Fleetwood under no pressure to deliver at British Open

The 2017 HSBC Championship winner is hoping to win his first major title - on a course not far from home.

England's Tommy Fleetwood plays on the fourth green during a practice round at Royal Birkdale golf course near Southport in north-west England. Andy Buchanan / AFP
England's Tommy Fleetwood plays on the fourth green during a practice round at Royal Birkdale golf course near Southport in north-west England. Andy Buchanan / AFP

Six months after victory at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi catapulted him to stardom, Tommy Fleetwood is looking to win the first major title of his career – on the course closest to home – when the British Open gets underway at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.

Fleetwood, 26, is up to a career-high 14th in the world rankings after winning the HNA French Open a fortnight ago, and is one of the stars whose face has been chosen to adorn banners lining the streets of the north-west coastal town of Southport, where his parents still live.

The hometown hero knew his level of fame had outgrown Southport when he was recognised in Altrincham Market, north-west of Manchester, recently, but he said the spotlight will not affect him.

“I got recognised at Altrincham Market the other day but there’s nobody fainting in the street as I walk past. I’m still waiting for those days to come,” said Fleetwood, recognisable with his shoulder-length hair.

“It’s very touching, actually, seeing things like that, but the banners will be off in a couple of weeks, so I best not get used to it too much.”

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Fleetwood has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past 10 months, having been world No 188 only last September.

Three top-10s inside a month saw momentum begin to build and a ninth-placed finish at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last year was followed by his Abu Dhabi win in January.

Success is usually followed by a rise in expectations, but Fleetwood said he would much rather be in a position “where people might be talking about me as a contender than turning up and sort of being a no-show”.

“I’ve thought about winning the Open since I was five years old, so thinking about it another few days isn’t going to make any difference to me. I don’t feel extra pressure from it.”

Watch Fleetwood video

Defending champion Henrik Stenson will partner former world No 1 Jordan Spieth (12.47pm, UAE) in the opening two rounds along with South Korean Kim Si-woo, who became the youngest winner at the Players Championship this year.

Stenson, who edged Phil Mickelson to win the title at Royal Troon last year, is bidding to become the first man since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to defend his title.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson will partner Rory McIlroy and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, and will get underway approximately at 5.48pm.

US Masters champion Sergio Garcia will be joined by Jason Day and 2015 Open champion Zach Johnson.

The first tee shot will be hit at 9.35am by Mark O’Meara.

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