By Richard Williamson
WHEN you host a party in your own backyard, there is always the risk of falling victim to a gatecrasher.
But this was not a case of someone sneaking in through the back door … this was an entrance every bit as dramatic as any Hollywood blockbuster.
Matthew Jordan did not even know he was playing in this week’s Betfred British Masters until last Sunday.
But the 23-year-old, who only turned professional last year, marched round the links at Hillside in the opening round yesterday with all the aplomb of a seasoned veteran to set a new course record.
Tommy Fleetwood hasn’t put a foot wrong as host of the European Tour’s return to his home town of Southport – but there was nothing he could do to avoid being upstaged by a stunning nine under par 63 from the Wirral golfer, who is ranked 837th in the world and is only in the field on an invite.
Jordan, who plays at Royal Liverpool and lives just lives two minutes from the Hoylake course, simply gobbled up Hillside, with more red on his card than there was on the Kop against Barcelona as his beloved Reds claimed an historic victory.
It was almost easier to state the holes he didn’t beat par on, as he started with back-to-back birdies and went under again on holes 4, 6 and 8. There was no let up on the back nine – one of Greg Norman’s favourite stretches of golf – and by the time he had added 10, 11 and 13 to his haul he was, suddenly, the name on everyone’s lips.
Jordan added one more on 15, but closed out a blemish-free round to lay down a marker that a promising professional career beckons after an amateur CV that includes getting to number four in the world amateur rankings, a plus 7 handicap, a nine-shot win in the Lytham Trophy and a Walker Cup place.
The Wirral golfer, playing only his 11th tournament as a pro, was equally sure-footed off the course as he refused to get carried away by his spectacular return.
“It is just 18 holes of a 72 hole tournament, so now I need to refocus and go again,” he said, despite producing a round to the obvious pride of his watching family. “I made a good start and that set the rhythm for the round. I started to realise how well I was doing when I started to see a few more people and cameras from around the 11th.
“After the good start I just wanted to go as low as I could, but to do it on this stage is really pleasing,” added Jordan, who had served notice of what was in store two weeks ago with a ten under par round on his way to seventh place at the Turkish Airlines Challenge.
World number 16 Fleetwood has been the star attraction of a tournament shorne of some of its biggest names like Poulter, Rose and McIlroy by scheduling which sees the next major of the season take place straight after in New York.
But he admitted he was not taken by surprise by Jordan’s elevation on the leaderboard, having played with him at Royal Liverpool.
“Those of us from the area know what he is capable of – he is really lighting up Hillside,” said Fleetwood after his own non-too shabby round of 68. “I know he does not feel he has played as well as he would have liked after turning pro, but it is different. A round like this will be a great boost to his confidence.”
Fleetwood put up a good fight of his own. He may not have been able to orchestrate the weather for the opening day, his round starting under a sulky sky prone to outbursts of rain and a chill factor higher than a Brexit negotiator welcoming Theresa May.
It’s always a struggle to get the engine going on a cold day, but Fleetwood is a Rolls Royce performer these days and he reached the turn two under after nailing birdies at the 11th and 17th, having started out at the tenth.
Even when he let his drive on the first slip under a tree and was forced to take a drop back on a trodden path, he conjured a superb recovery to save par and then audaciously rolled in a 30 footer on the next for eagle. As the numbers in the following galleries strengthened, so did the breeze so it was no surprise that Fleetwood hit a bump in the road with a dropped shot at six, but that was recovered immediately.
After all the work off the course Fleetwood has done to push this event, it was a relief to get back to the golf.
“I really enjoyed it out there,” said a player who has even had to get used to seeing his face on the side of buses. “I felt very comfortable and hit my irons well. There have been a lot of new experiences in hosting this event, and I am proud of that, but it was nice to get back to doing what I do every week.
“There were a few nerves, but that is as much about wanting the tournament to go well as anything. I am pleased with where my game is.”
Along with Fleetwood, Lee Slattery is also returning to his home town with the Formby Hall player producing a spirited fightback after reaching the turn two over. Four birdies on the back nine were offset by a disappointing bogey on the last on his way to a one under 71.
A third Southport player, Matthew Baldwin who is attached to neighbouring Royal Birkdale, also went round in 71, which included four birdies, while Wirral’s Paul Waring was a shot further back after a round featuring a double bogey at the sixth along with another bogey. But the dropped shots were offset by three birdies to leave the Bromborough player needing to ensure he doesn’t go backwards tomorrow if he is to make the weekend.