GUTSY Gareth Wright went toe-to-toe with one of golf’s big-hitters to take pride of place among the Tartan Tour troops in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
The Edinburgh-based player, who tied for 38th in the same event 12 months ago, confirmed his liking for the PGA Centenary Course with a one-under-par 71.
It earned him a share of 22nd spot, four off the lead, heading into the second round today, when Wright was again looking forward to playing with fellow big-hitter Emanuele Canonica from Italy.
“We were nip and tuck really,” said West Linton-attached Wright when asked who’d come out in the long-driving stages on the opening day.
“I did him on a few and he hit a couple past me. But we were pretty much toe-to-toe.”
Starting at the 11th, Wright was one-over after five before picking up birdies at the 16th – his sixth – and the 18th.
He gave one back at the third before making his length count again at another of the par-5s with a birdie at the ninth – his penultimate hole.
“I didn’t miss many greens and gave myself a lot of chances,” said the newly-crowned Glenmuir British Club Pros champion.
“I probably didn’t hit it close enough to make more birdies, part of the reason for that being that my wedge play wasn’t as good as it has been recently.
“But I’m pleased with that start and I now just need to stick to the game plan of playing patient golf.”
On his love affair with Gleneagles, the 29-year-old added: “We come up here quite a lot with the family. I like the courses and the resort – it’s a happy place for me, really.”
Wright knows, however, that he will make someone a tad unhappy if he qualifies for the final two rounds in Perthshire for the second year running.
West Linton are in action in the semi-finals of the Edinburgh Summer League on Sunday and are facing the prospect of being without Scott Walker, who is caddying for Wright at Gleneagles.
“I’ve been getting a bit of grief from the boys at home, especially Simon Mackenzie, the team captain,” he said with a smile. “But Scotty made the commitment to caddie for me a year ago. It’s unfortunate. If there was anyone else I could trust in the same way I’d have them in a heartbeat but Scotty is great on the bag.”
David Drysdale was also sitting handily placed after a level-par 72 but Stephen Gallacher had work on his hands to make the cut after a 75.
“I played poor all day – nothing seemed to go right,” said the Bathgate man. “I’m hitting it well on the range, but can’t seem to do it out on the course, which is a wee bit frustrating.
“I’ve been working on my alignment and out on the course I seem to be aiming a bit right which is compounding my swing.
“It’s great on the range when I can put the poles down but I must be creeping into old habits on the course.”
Gallacher opened with the same score last year but bounced back in style, missing out on the five-man play-off won by Thomas Bjorn by just a shot.
“I now need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good one,” he added.
Lloyd Saltman, who secured a late spot in the field, also started the second round on five-over, as did amateur ace Grant Forrest.
Playing in his first professional event, the Scottish Amateur champion from Craigielaw opened with a birdie and was out in 36, level-par.
He then dropped four shots in three holes but, overall, the 19-year-old gave a good account of himself on the big stage.
It was a day to forget, however, for David Patrick, the former Walker Cup player from Mortonhall. The three-time Scottish Under-25s champion slumped to an 11-over-par 83 to sit in last spot.