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Local lad Fleetwood flattered to be Open contender

© AFP/File / by Andy SCOTT | "I have thought about winning The Open since I was five years old, so I think thinking about it another few days isn't going to make any difference to me,"said Britain's Tommy Fleetwood

SOUTHPORT (UNITED KINGDOM) (AFP) - 

Tommy Fleetwood used to sneak onto the course to practice at Royal Birkdale when he was a kid, hoping nobody would notice.

Now the 26-year-old local lad is back at the venue for this week's British Open very much in the limelight -- he is being talked about as a potential winner thanks to his outstanding recent form.

"I think this week it's going to be an experience for me I'll never forget. It's very rare that you get a tournament this close to home," Fleetwood told reporters at the course in Southport, north-west England, on Monday.

The Open is being held here for the 10th time, the first since Padraig Harrington retained the Claret Jug in 2008.

"If you ask anybody playing this week that's been here before they'll say it's one of the best courses in the world, very arguably the best Open venue," said Fleetwood, who grew up just along the road.

"If you live five minutes away, you're going to try to get on when you can. I might have be bunked on the odd time and hit the odd shot.

"But that was about as far as it goes. Yeah, it's very cool. It was a course I would have crept on now and again. It's where The Open is and now I'm playing."

Locals turning out to support him when he tees off in a group with world number two Hideki Matsuyama and US Open champion Brooks Koepka on Thursday morning have good reason to believe that Fleetwood can do them proud, too.

He has won twice already this year, including at the recent French Open, and is top of the European Tour's Race to Dubai rankings.

Ranked 14 in the world, he also contended at last month's US Open, finishing fourth while Koepka won the title.

With the last seven majors having been won by players who had never previously won any of the sport's biggest prizes, Fleetwood is hoping to extend that run.

"Recent results have clearly put me in the eye and made people talk about me as a chance," he said.

"I've won a couple of times this year. This is still The Open and there's so many things that go into it. I think that's the only thing with The Open, the luck of the draw goes into it, depending on the conditions."

He accepts he will have to deal with the expectation of the home crowds this week, but insists being considered a potential winner will not affect him.

"I have thought about winning The Open since I was five years old, so I think thinking about it another few days isn't going to make any difference to me," he said.

"It's nice to be spoken of in that light, to be honest. I find it very flattering and I mean, it doesn't affect me in any way, apart from it's very nice and makes me smile, really."

by Andy SCOTT

© 2017 AFP