LEE Westwood hasn’t been seen in the Scottish Open for the last two years, having decided that one visit to Castle Stuart was enough for him.
It followed, partly anyway, seeing a cracking shot into the last in one of his rounds taking a terrible kick to leave the Englishman walking off mumbling his displeasure.
Golfers are like that. They can be easily influenced by something that goes against them. It was a pity that Westwood didn’t feel inclined to give the Inverness course another chance, especially when that staging in 2011 was plagued by bad weather, but that’s his prerogative.
Happily, it seems as though the former world No 1 is ready to start with a clean slate for the Scottish Open when it moves to Royal Aberdeen next year as part of it being showcased around Scotland over the next two years by the European Tour and its two partners, Aberdeen Asset Management and the Scottish Government.
It was only a “maybe” but, in an interview on Sky Sports after completing his opening round in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, that was enough to indicate that Westwood is giving serious consideration to restoring the event to his schedule next year.
If so, it would be the latest in a string of boosts for both the Scottish Open and the Granite City as it gears up to stage a European Tour event for the first time. Phil Mickelson, of course, will be the defending champion, while Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, like Westwood, absentees in recent years, have also indicated they’ll be in the field.
So, too, could current US Open champion, Justin Rose. The Englishman’s manager, Mark Steinberg, said last week he was still working on next year’s schedule, but The Scotsman understands Rose is keen to be in the field at Balgownie, where an increased prize fund of £4 million will be up for grabs.
Westwood’s hint – we’ll call it that, anyway – was the sole piece of good news for Scotland on a day when the country’s four representatives in the season-ending Dubai event all misfired in the opening round on the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates.
Craig Lee and Scott Jamieson were the pick of the bunch with one-over-par 73s, one better than Marc Warren, while Stephen Gallacher had to settle for a disappointing 77 to sit second last in the 56-strong field.
Lee, who jumped three places after the Turkish Airlines Open last weekend to secure his debut in the event, followed 14 straight pars with a birdie-3 at the 15th, only to then run up a double-bogey 7 at the last – a hole that, in fairness, proved troublesome to a fair number of others.
Jamieson also faltered at the finish, dropping shots at the 16th and 17th after being one-under with four to play. Warren never really got going after dropping two shots in his opening four holes, as did Gallacher on a day when he failed to register a single birdie.
After last week’s low scoring in Belek, those birdies, in truth, were much harder to come by, the man having most success being Spaniard Alejandro Canizares, who signed for a six-under 66 to lead by one from Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Australian Marcus Fraser.
The group lying joint second should also have included Henrik Stenson, but, after covering the previous 17 holes without even coming close to putting a foot wrong, he three-putted the last for his only bogey of the day.
Nevertheless, it was a great start for the Swede in his bid to be crowned Europe’s No 1 on Sunday, having already claimed that honour on the other side of the Atlantic by winning the FedEx Cup this season. It put him ahead of his three main rivals – Justin Rose (70), Graeme McDowell (72) and Ian Poulter (69), currently second, third and fourth in the Race to Dubai respectively.
“You can’t win tournaments on a Thursday, but you can certainly play your way out of them,” said Stenson, who teed off moments after a fly-by from the Red Arrows as they took part in the Dubai Airshow.
“I’m happy the way I’m playing and I would have taken four under,” added the 37-year-old. “I’m playing nicely. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and gave myself plenty of chances. I definitely hit a lot of good putts, but the greens are tricky to read and I should have been a good couple better than what I was. At the last I let the concentration slip and three-putted from 12 feet down the hill. That was the only bad one today.”
Welshman Jamie Donaldson, runner-up in Turkey on Sunday, is alongside Stenson on four-under, while Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, opened with a 71.