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Tom Lewis, Thomas Bjorn lead after first round of British Open

SANDWICH, England — Tom Lewis gets his name from Tom Watson, who was his father's golf hero. Dad, by the way, spent his formative years as a club rival of a young up-and-comer named Nick Faldo.

Watson and Faldo have eight British Open titles between them. But not even they accomplished what Lewis did Thursday:

The lowest round by an amateur at a major championship and a share of the Open lead.

"I think I was in the zone. I didn't really know what I was doing," said Lewis, 20, whose birdies at Nos. 14-17 helped him shoot 5-under 65 and tie Thomas Bjorn at Royal St. George's.

"I was just thrilled to be here, but to shoot 65 in the first round was something I wouldn't have thought. I was just happy to get the drive off the tee on the first (hole)."

The only other amateurs to shoot 65 in a major did it at the U.S. Open: James McHale (1947), Jim Simons (1971) and Nick Taylor (2009). Lewis became the first amateur to lead a major since Mike Reid at the 1976 U.S. Open.

Lewis, who captured the British Boys' Championship two years ago on this same course, earned his Open place two weeks ago by winning a 36-hole qualifier in Rye. The reward: a tee time with his namesake.

"He's quite a refined player," said Watson, 61, a five-time Open winner. "I just had to smile inside to watch him play.

"He could be my grandson."

Born in Welwyn, a small town north of London, Lewis was taught the game by his father, Brian, who briefly played on the European PGA Tour. His mother, Lynda, joked her younger son Jack is named after Nicklaus.

"Is it just the boys?" she was asked.

"No, we have a daughter," she said.

When pressed about which golfer Stacy might be named for, she said she was actually named "after a model my husband fancied."

Lewis is dyslexic, so school was a struggle. Just 16, he jumped at the chance to take a different path, to devote his life to golf.

His swing coach is Pete Cowen, who works with Bjorn and other PGA Tour and European Tour players. And he has faced formidable competition.

Since December, he has played in the Dubai Desert Classic, the Australian Open — where he finished 12th, ahead of Greg Norman, John Daly and Fred Couples — and the New South Wales Open — where he lost in a playoff to veteran Peter O'Malley.

Lewis expects to turn pro after September's Walker Cup, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.

Thursday, he needed only eight putts to get through the first eight holes, including birdies at Nos. 3, 7 and 8. The rest were saves after he missed the green. He kept bailing himself out, chipping up next to the flag and sinking the putts.

Bogeys at Nos. 11 and 13 stymied his momentum. But Lewis pulled himself together to put together the four consecutive birdies and par at No. 18.

He was asked if he could have imagined shooting 65 or being tied for the lead, at the beginning of the tournament.

"Obviously it's one day," Lewis said. "I'm going to have to play just as well as I did (Thursday). I'm sure I'm not going to shoot four 65s."

Then, with a smile lifting the corners of his mouth, he added, with great timing, "And if I did, I will be winning."

That broke up the room.

As the laughter subsided, Lewis finished his answer.

"But I don't think that's going to be happening," he said. "I'm going to have tough moments (today). So as long as I limit my mistakes and shoot 70 or below, then I'll be more than happy.

"But to shoot 65 was excellent, but to then hold off the best players in the world is going to be even harder. I'm just going to focus on what I can do and then see what happens."

.Fast facts

No. 1 amateur

The lowest rounds by an amateur at the British Open:

Year Player Score

2011 Tom Lewis 65

1998 Justin Rose 66

1996 Tiger Woods 66

1950 Frank Stranahan 66

Tom Lewis, Thomas Bjorn lead after first round of British Open 07/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 10:42pm]
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