Playing in onlyyour second Open Championship can be a daunting experience for some golfers - but not Robert Rock!
After failing to qualify on seven previous occasions prior to his Open debut at St Andrews last year, the young man from Staffordshire had good cause to feel a bit nervous stood on the first tee yesterday morning. But he soon proved he had nothing to worry about, carding three birdies in his first six holes.
And, although it was to get no better than that, to shoot a three-under-par 69 in your first round in an Open is still the stuff of dreams.
It was a considerable improvement on the efforts of his playing partners, experienced American Jeff Maggert and Aussie Jarrod Lyle. And, more pertinently, it left him last night just three shots off the pace set by first round leader Graeme McDowell, whose six-under 66 leaves him one clear of five men on five-under 67, Miguel Angel Jimenez, two more young Englishmen, Greg Owen and Anthony Wall, the Japanese Keiichiro Fukabori and an American by the name of Tiger Woods.
They are followed by a 13-man team of talent including Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els, who all shot four-under 68s.
Then comes the group containing Rock.
Now attached to The De Vere Belfry, his early days at Lichfield's Swingers Golf Centre seemed a world away at such a prestigious club as Royal Liverpool.
But he still looked more than at home and perhaps the most heartening aspect of his round on his first visit to Hoy-lake was the fact that he scored so well on a day when he was not at his best. "I'm really chuffed with that," admitted Rock, "because yesterday in practice I was in a mess. My swing felt dreadful and I didn't feel good today either. I didn't hit it very well, to be honest.
"But I holed a few nice putts and managed to get it in play on the par fives. And I'm more than happy with a 69, to be honest."
Rock was the first to admit that it could have even better after the start he made, following his first-hole birdie with two more at the fifth and sixth.
He stayed that way until the ninth - "I hit a bad shot and did well to make bogey" - to go out in 33. And, although he dropped two more shots at the 12th and 14th, there were birdies either side at the 11th and the short 15th. and he then finished with a flourish for one final birdie at the last to go back to three under. "I have to admit the way I was playing I figured there'd be a couple of wayard shots that I wouldn't get away with and, sure enough, there were.
"Then again, it works the other way too.
"Hitting good shots doesn't necessarily mean it's going to go your way either.
"I hit a good shot with my second at the long tenth but it went in the front bunker and I couldn't get up and down. And that felt like a dropped shot, only making par on a shortened par five that you expect to birdie."
Like many of the 156-strong field, who had struggled to hold the ball on the sun-baked fairways and greens in practice, Rock felt that the run of low first day scoring was trig-gered by the freak thunderstorm which hit Hoylake just after dawn yesterday.
It delayed play by half an hour - meaning that the final starters did not go off until ten to five last night.
But it also softened a course that had been so scorched it was in danger of becoming a fire hazard.
"It certainly seemed to play a lot easier," said Rock. "And that has kept me in with a shout.
"But I've not got much time to reflect on it.
"I'm off again at 7.03 in the morning. And I'll probably have to get up at four o'clock.
"So we'll just have to see what state I'm in tomorrow night," he added with a grin, "in more ways than one."
While Rock was yesterday's best Midland performer, Paul Broadhurst also birdied the last to slip into red figures on one under. John Bickerton had an even better finish, an eagle at the 16th followed by a last-hole birdie that took him back to level par. Even Warren Bladon insists he is not out of it after a luckless 76.