Robert MacIntyre shot a classy 65 to claim a four-shot lead at the European Open.

The 23-year-old followed up his opening round of 68 with a seven-under performance on Friday to surge clear at the top of the Hamburg leaderboard.

Scottish rising star MacIntyre, who is seeking his first title on the tour, will play with world number 924 Bernd Ritthammer in the final pairing on Saturday.

The German went round in 66 to move to seven under, two shots ahead of Paul Casey, who failed to capitalise on an opening 66 as he followed up with a one-over 73 that featured four dropped shots.

"I'm quite happy to be standing here with one over - five under for the tournament," Casey told the European Tour's official website.

"It's such a difficult golf course. Attitude is key and I had a good attitude. Luckily there are some options to get birdies if you stick with it and you hit good golf shots and luckily I made a couple but yeah, very difficult stuff."

World number nine Xander Schauffele had a 69 to move to two under, but fellow Americans Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar sat two over and four over respectively, Reed making the cut but Kuchar missing out by one shot.

There was no doubting the star of the show at the Green Eagle club, though, with MacIntyre's brilliant bogey-free round firing the Scot into a dominant position.

Paul Casey snatched the first-round lead with a classy round of 66 at the Porsche European Open.

The Englishman spends most of the year on the PGA Tour but has returned to Europe for this week's event - and said his performance in gusty conditions felt even better than the score suggested.

Austrian Matthias Schwab, who has hit a purple patch of form in recent weeks with consecutive top-10 finishes at the Czech Masters and European Masters, carded a 67 to sit alone in second place at the Green Eagle club near Hamburg.

Casey's last win on the European Tour came at the KLM Open in 2014, although in the United States he has triumphed twice at the Valspar Championship, retaining the title in he won in 2018 earlier this year.

He said of his performance on Thursday: "It was a really good round of golf. There were a few putts that slid by but that is such a difficult golf course. I can't explain how difficult that golf course is.

"I was happy with the patience I was showing and the quality of the ball-striking, and here I stand even happier because the score doesn't do it justice as that is one of the finest rounds I've played this year."

"The score was great. I couldn't have hoped for better. I'm happy to be under par, never mind six."

Scotland's Robert MacIntyre, German Max Rottluff and England's Ben Stow share third place on four under.

A star US trio failed to get to grips with the course on day one, however, as Xander Schauffele posted a one-over 73, with Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar both a shot further back.

Former teenage wonder Matteo Manassero, now 26 and struggling on tour, had an even worse day, with triple-bogey eights at 16 and 18 seeing him sign for an 81.

Justin Thomas closed out his first win of the year with a three-stroke victory at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

Thomas made waves at Medinah with his record-breaking round – a 61 – on Saturday and the American backed it up.

The 2017 US PGA Championship winner carded a four-under 68 in the final round to get to 25 under, winning the tournament and moving top of the FedEx Cup standings heading into the Tour Championship.

The win was Thomas' 10th career PGA Tour title and it came with some impressive shots.

He had a string of birdies through his back nine, four through his last eight holes, to help keep the rest of the field at bay.

Thomas held off a red-hot Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama, who both matched or shot their lowest rounds of the week.

Cantlay finished solo second (22 under) after nine birdies helped him to a seven-under 65. He was mere inches away from putting even more pressure on Thomas but just missed an eagle putt after driving the 15th green.

Matsuyama had the lowest round of the day with a 63 to jump into third place at 20 under. The 36-hole leader had set the previous record at Medinah before Thomas broke it on Saturday, and got back to form on Sunday.

He was mistake-free through the front nine with five birdies and matched that after the turn. However, a bogey on the par-four 16th stopped Matsuyama from besting his low round of the week.

Tony Finau finished in fourth place at 18 under while Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker tied for fifth at 16 under.

Corey Conners and Lucas Glover both placed seventh at 15 under and Adam Scott and Kevin Kisner rounded out the top finishers in a tie for ninth at 14 under.

While Royal Portrush will be uncharted territory for the majority of the field at the 148th Open Championship, there is a strong sense of familiarity for Rory McIlroy.

The four-time major champion set a course-record 61 at one of the toughest links venues – which has not held The Open since 1951 – as a 16-year-old in 2005.

A lot has changed in the 14 years since but McIlroy's knowledge of Portrush, coupled with the fervent backing of a partisan home crowd in Northern Ireland, should aid his cause.

But there is a star-studded cast – led by world number one and four-time major victor Brooks Koepka – who will all be desperate to deny McIlroy a dream home coming.

Here, three Omnisport writers pick out their players to watch in the battle for the Claret Jug.

 

PETER HANSON

Favourite: Brooks Koepka

Koepka's phenomenal record in major tournaments includes a couple of top-10 placings at The Open. A year ago, Koepka was a distant 39th at Carnoustie, but that was sandwiched by triumphs at the U.S. Open and US PGA Championship. He secured another PGA title in May, and only a wonderful four days from Gary Woodland denied him a third consecutive U.S. success. Koepka often feels he does not receive the acclaim he deserves but the fact the attention will be focused on McIlroy should play into his hands at Portrush.

Likely challengers: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Tommy Fleetwood

Rahm's three attempts to win The Open have hardly been a success story – a tie for 44th two years ago his best result. But the passionate Spaniard has two top-10 major finishes in 2019 and won the Irish Open this month, so will be feeling confident at Portrush. For a while now it has appeared a matter of when not if Schauffele becomes a major champion. Respective finishes of second and third at the Masters and U.S. Open further enhanced his major pedigree and he proved his ability to contend on tricky Open courses when ending as runner-up at Carnoustie a year ago. Fleetwood's form in recent months has been patchy, but the amiable Englishman has the sort of clutch-scoring ability that should suit Portrush.

Outside bet: Graeme McDowell

The halcyon days of winning the U.S. Open in 2010 may seem like a distant memory for the former world number four, who last year was ranked as low as 239. But 'G Mac' has shown signs of improvements this year, recording top-10 finishes at the Texas Open and Canadian Open, while he flirted with contention at last month's U.S. Open before finishing 16th. And do not discount the power of local knowledge. While the majority of the focus will undoubtedly fall McIlroy's way, Portrush native McDowell will be desperate to impress in front of home support.

RUSSELL GREAVES

My favourite: Francesco Molinari

When Molinari lifted the Claret Jug in 2018, he did so to little fanfare. On that Sunday at Carnoustie, his name was not the most illustrious of the contenders. Rory McIlroy was up there, as was Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and, of course, Tiger Woods. What separated this quiet, unassuming Italian from that star-studded field was his immense calmness under pressure. He went bogey-free in a two-under par 69 in tricky conditions that will likely be replicated at Portrush. When the going gets tough, this guy will get going.

Likely challengers: Koepka, Spieth and Fleetwood

Because since when does Koepka not challenge at a major? It is what he does. Time and time again. How Spieth would yearn for that kind of consistency now, but he did make a decent fist of retaining his title last year and it can never be declared a surprise to see him in the mix. Fleetwood was the focus of much of the pre-tournament attention when Spieth triumphed, with Royal Birkdale his home course. He may not have the same intimate knowledge of this track, but how poetic it would be to see the Claret Jug passed from one half of the Ryder Cup 'Moliwood' partnership to the other.

Outside bet: Matt Kuchar

Kuchar came mighty close to glory two years ago, but Spieth's stunning revival from his 13th-hole woes kept his compatriot at arm's length. Back then, Spieth said Kuchar would win a major one day. This could be his year.

JON FISHER

My favourite: Fleetwood

Fleetwood is without a win in 2019 but has recorded four top-10 finishes. He is likely to enjoy the conditions at Portrush. The links course on the upper tip of Northern Ireland is defended primarily by the wind which could play into the hands of a man brought up on the blowy north west coast of England. Fleetwood is overdue a major breakthrough and will enjoy considerable support.

Likely challengers: McIlroy, Koepka and Spieth

No real surprises here. McIlroy holds the course record at Portrush. Expectation could be an issue in his home country but he has the tools to dominate. Spieth won the Open in 2017 and was tied for the 54-hole lead 12 months ago before falling away. He hasn't won since his Birkdale triumph but seems to thrive in UK conditions. And Koepka because, well, it's Koepka.

Outside bet: Adam Scott

Scott, like Spieth, is very much at home at the Open. Four consecutive top-10 finishes from 2012-2015 - he should have claimed the Claret Jug in 2012 but bogeyed the last four holes to finish second to Ernie Els by a shot - show a pedigree on this type of layout. The swing has never been a problem and his putting is, very belatedly, not proving a hindrance.

Edoardo Molinari was a spectator when his brother Francesco won The Open last year, but he will be hoping to join him at Royal Portrush after surging into contention at the Scottish Open.

An eight-under 63 sees the Italian sit in a four-way tie for the lead after round one, alongside fellow Open hopefuls Romain Wattel and Nino Bertasio, with Matt Kuchar – runner-up at the 2017 championship at Royal Birkdale – completing the quartet.

The leading three players in the top 10 who are not already exempt will earn a spot at the world's oldest major in Northern Ireland next week.

"I'm in a good place at the minute," said Edoardo Molinari. "It seems like every week I'm playing better.

"I'm building something every week and when you play golf like this, it's quite easy but then everything can change in a very short amount of time.

"You just have to be careful and keep doing the same things and hopefully the results continue to improve."

There are some big names in action at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick, with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy among them.

He shot a 67 to sit alongside Justin Thomas on four under, while Rickie Fowler had to settle for an even-par round that included an eagle three at the 16th.

Henrik Stenson, another former Open winner, was blemish-free in his fine round of 65.

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