Can an Englishman win the British Open on home soil? Rose, Willett, Casey and others off to solid starts.

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The English are coming, the English are coming!

That slight play on Paul Revere’s infamous words could apply to the leaderboard in the opening round of the British Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England. Four of the 27 English golfers in the field toured the classic links course along the English Channel in 3-under 67 and several others were in red figures and craving to be the first Englishman to claim the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo won his third jug in 1992 at Muirfield. An Englishman can also end an even longer national drought as the last victory on home soil was Tony Jacklin in 1969.

The English trio of Andy Sullivan (67), birthday boy Marcus Armitage (69) and Richard Bland (70) had the honors of being the first group out in the morning.

“It’s probably the one event of the year where you actually don’t mind getting up early,” Sullivan said. “You’ve always got a buzz to come and play the Open.”

Former Masters champion Danny Willett is among a gaggle of players tied with Sullivan at 3-under 67 as is Jack Senior, who hails from near Manchester, and was quite pleased with his bogey-free start. He and Sullivan, who teamed up in the foursomes sessions at the 2011 Walker Cup to go 2-0, explained the plethora of Union Jacks on the leaderboard thusly: “I just think it’s a typical English links day more than anything. There’s no rain about at the minute. That would make it even more an English links day. But yeah, I think that’s – obviously a lot of English guys have grown up playing links golf, are so used to playing links golf. Just the whole comfort thing really, it’s always nice to play at home.”

But playing at home can be a double-edged sword. It’s tough to win in front of the home faithful. It can apply added pressure. I once asked Canadian instructor Sean Foley, longtime coach of Justin Rose, if it surprised him how long it had been for an Englishman since Faldo’s win at the Open and he said no and offered good perspective.

“When was the last time a Canadian won the Canadian Open?” Foley asked.

It was Pat Fletcher in 1954, for those wondering.

“When they start singing the Canadian anthem on the 15th hole, all of a sudden it’s not a 7-iron from 160 yards but a childhood dream coming true. It becomes about being the first since Faldo and remembering sitting on your grandfather’s lap watching the Open championship and thinking someday I’ll be there. It’s about all that. All these seeds that were put in the brain and the soul to get there. In that moment, the seeds have grown into an Amazon jungle and there isn’t much clarity. It’s probably going to be the hardest (major to win) because they want it so much.”

It hasn’t been for a lack of talent. With the likes of Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Rose, you’d think at least one of them would have etched their name on the famed trophy, but only Rose has an Open to his credit – the U.S. Open in 2013.

“I think there was a lean period of time where just basically it was just Westy flying the flag for us for the sort of late ’90s, early 2000s, and then a few of us began to sort of develop through,” Rose said after shooting 67 on Thursday. “Right now I think it’s probably as strong a chance as we’ve had, maybe even ever. The quality of golf that a lot of the guys are playing, Tommy (Fleetwood), Paul Casey, Poults, Matt Fitzpatrick, obviously myself, they’ve had an opportunity to win many majors with Westy, and Poulter has had a couple looks at the Masters. Listen, the lads can do it. I have no reason why. We’ve all grown up playing lots of links golf to be honest with you, and yeah, it should be a style of golf that we all relish.”

Rose, who burst on the scene with a T-4 finish at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old at the 1998 Open, made birdie at the first and salvaged a par at the last to shoot a bogey-free round and lift his spirits that this could be the year.

“Winning the Open in general would mean the world to me,” Rose said. “It’s the one championship that I’ve dreamed about winning more than any other, because you know it’s the pinnacle of golf for a British player.”

Count Casey, who birdied two of the first three holes en route to a bogey-free 68, among those who would give an arm or a leg, or maybe both, to achieve his childhood dream.

“I haven’t won one. I desperately want to, but I don’t feel like that’s adding pressure. I just feel excitement every time. It’s like an opportunity,” he said.

Said Rose: “Hopefully Royal St. George’s with the St. George’s cross is kind of a lucky omen this week.”

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