Maintaining his welcome return to form, Martin Laird was delighted to negotiate the notorious Bethgate Black without a bogey as he earned a share of the lead in the first round of the Barclays Championship in New York.
The 33-year-old Scot, who lost to Matt Kuchar in a play-off in the same event in 2010 after taking a three-shot lead into the final round, started his latest FedEx Cup Play-Offs campaigh by carding a five-under-par 66.
Set up by four birdies on the front nine, which he covered in 32, before picking up another shot at the 16th, Laird joined Patrick Reed in top spot after the US Ryder Cup player had signed for an eagle and three birdies.
“I’m very happy with no bogeys round here,” admitted Laird, who was struggling to make the end-of-season series before finishing seventh in the Barracuda Championship then tying for second in the Canadian Open.
“On the front nine, which was downwind, I took advantage of a couple of the easier holes. The back nine is brutal and I played really nice to shoot one-under. I made a couple up and downs on longer holes for par then a nice birdie at 16th.”
He said his driving had been better than hitting only five out of 14 fairways suggested, having been in the first cut four or five times.
“I struggled driving the ball last week (when he finished 73rd out of the 75 players who made the cut in the Wyndham Championship) but I got it sorted on Sunday and drove the ball great,” added Laird.
“I worked with my coach Saturday after I played over there last week and we got it sorted, and that was big because I didn’t want to come here not driving the ball very well.
“I wouldn’t be standing here right now talking to you if that was the case. I drove the ball really pretty well in the wind today.
“I didn’t hit that many fairways, but I really hit a lot of good tee shots, which left me in good spots. That’s obviously a key around here.”
Former Scottish Open champion Rickie Fowler is among four players sitting one off the lead while world No 1 Jason Day is just two behind.
Russell Knox, who came into the Play-Offs sitting 85 spots above Laird in fourth, opened with a two-over-par 73.
The Ryder Cup wild-card contender was three-over after five, got it back to one-over before dropping a shot at the last to sit in joint-69th.
Earlier, the two other Hazeltine hopefuls in the field, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, had carded 69 and 72 respectively.
Open champion and Olympic silver medallist Henrik Stenson witrhdrew after the first round, citing an injured right knee.
“Regrettably, I need to withdraw this week to allow time for an MRI and see what the next step is,” said the Swede, one of the nine automatic qualifiers for the Ryder Cup.
“My right knee, which required surgery in December 2015, has flared up again.”
Catriona Matthew opened with a three-under-par 69 to sit joint-16th in the weather-hit opening round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in Calgary.
The North Berwick woman signed for four birdies on her 47th birthday to lie three off the clubhouse lead, held by Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow.
After a three-hour delay due to lightning, play was suspended at 8.23pm due to darkness and will this morning at 7.15am local time.
Clydebank and District’s John Henry carded a seven-under-par 65 to catapult himself into contention in the PGA EuroPro Tour’s FORE Business Championship at The Oxfordshire. On eight-under,
Henry is one off the lead, held by four players, with a round to go, having jumped above Barassie’s Jack McDonald after he slipped five off the pace following a second-round 74.
“After being four-over after 12 holes in the first round on Wednesday, I thought a missed cut was on the horizon,” said Henry, younger brother of Challenge Tour player Scott.
“But I but played some nice stuff to cover the last six holes in five-under and then had a very hot start today with birdies at the first four holes, which set the tone for the day.
“My gameplan tomorrow will just be same as last two days try my best and see what happens”
The new season of the Midland Golfers’ Alliance got underway with the Atholl Palace Team competition at Pitlochry.
Local pro Mark Pirie and last year’s Championship winner, Carnoustie’s Fraser Man. shared the scratch spoils with matching one-over-par 70s.
Crieff eight-handicapper Rab Baldie topped the handicap list with a net 68 and also helped his team of Scott Miller (Blairgowrie, 14) and Grant Jenkins (Crieff, 3) to first place in the team competition with a 58.