IT TAKES one to know one. “Phil’s a good lad, top bloke,” said Stephen Gallacher of his playing partner in the opening round.
It was not the first time the Bathgate man had been in Phil Mickelson’s company. Paired together on the last day in the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews, Gallacher came out on top on that occasion by four shots. Despite finding himself two adrift after just two holes, Mickelson gained revenge of sorts this time, signing for two shots less with his 66.
“You want to be playing with these guys to see if they do anything different and to see if you can learn from them,” admitted Gallacher after round two in their personal bout. “It’s good to watch his strategy and listen to what he’s saying (to caddie Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay).”
There was not much chat between the two after Mickelson three-putted the tenth, his opening hole.
“What in the world was that?” was the cry from the world No 8 following a wide far worse than any you’ll see in the current Ashes series at the short 11th. Further early damage was avoided thanks to an exquisite bunker shot, though, and the American was off and running after an eagle at the next.
“He played lovely,” enthused his playing partner. “His short game is brilliant – one of the best in the world. It’s also good to watch his shot selection and to see how he reacts to hitting a bad shot.”
On occasions, Mickelson’s shot selection yesterday was clearly geared towards next week. “He’s got a driver, a 2-wood (did anyone know such a club still existed?), a rescue and a 64-degree wedge in the bag, so he’s got one eye on The Open,” observed Gallacher.
Muirfield-bound himself, the Scot reckoned he had “left a few shots out there”. The tenth, where he missed from around four feet, was certainly one birdie that got away, costing him the chance of a flying start after he then picked up shots at the next two.
“I missed a few putts from inside ten feet, but the greens are so hard to read,” said Gallacher. “They are all double borrows and you have to try and figure out what it’s going to do when the putt is dying.”
Playing in the match ahead of his compatriot, Paul Lawrie’s opening putt of the day – a tentative effort if there ever was one – set the tone on the gigantic, undulating Castle Stuart greens for the Aberdonian.
“The first eight holes I played lovely but missed everything I looked at,” he reported following a 69. “Then, after one bad shot at the 14th (where he ran up a double-bogey 6), you’re one-over when you should be four-under. It’s the way it’s been all season. I can’t get the ball in the hole.”
Not from around four feet maybe. But Lawrie can be deadly from 50 feet, as he showed when rolling in a monster effort at the 18th for an eagle-3.
“It’s just inconsistent and I can only go and work on it,” said the 44-year, admitting he had no excuses in that department with three putting greens back home in the Granite City. “One is indoor and two outdoor,” he added. “They’re not helping, though.”
Being reminded by someone that Father Time is catching up with you never tends to help anyone, either. “I realised yesterday they weren’t as old as me put together yesterday,” said Lawrie of his two playing partners – 23-year-old Thorbjorn Olesen and 20-year-old Matteo Manassero. “But, considering I was playing with two boys 20 years less my age, the chat was good out there.”
Good is not the word you could use to describe Craig Lee’s form coming into this event. Three missed cuts in a row, including him finishing last of the 156 starters in the Irish Open a fortnight ago, had taken the shine off a decent first half of the season. An opening 68 was more like it, though a last-hole bogey meant lunch might not have tasted as good as it should have.
“I can’t remember if or when I finished last in a tournament,” said the Stirling man. “I felt good going into it so it was a little bit disappointing, but the game was never a million miles away. I’ve worked on a few things and got it a bit closer to what I want it to be.”
Helped by a late flourish – a rare birdie at the 17th then another one at the last – Martin Laird also signed for a four-under-par effort. “I scrambled pretty well in the middle, when I was hitting some bad drives and overall I’m happy – it was a nice finish and four-under is a good solid start,” said the three-times PGA Tour winner.
Sitting alongside Lawrie on three-under are Scott Henry, who suffered the same fate at Lee at his last hole, Peter Whiteford, Greig Hutcheon and Richie Ramsay.
After starting birdie-par-eagle, the latter looked set to position himself much higher up the leaderboard but then had to wait until the 18th for his only other sub-par figure.
Marc Warren’s 71 saw him cover the final four holes in level-par. He will probably not need to be reminded that he would have won this event by three shots 12 months ago if he had achieved that in the last round as opposed to covering the same stretch in four-over.
Probably feeling the most pain in a 19-strong Tartan Army first time round on this occasion was James Byrne, who ran up back-to-back 7s – a double-bogey at the sixth and triple-bogey at the next – as he signed for a 76.
“Those two holes were pretty damaging,” confessed the Banchory man, who plays most of his golf at the moment on the Asian Tour and is here through a sponsor’s invitation.