GREENOCK’S Chris Doak returned to his happy hunting ground in the Highlands to make his presence felt on the leaderboard after a low-scoring opening round in the £2.7 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
On a day when the Inverness course was virtually defenceless in the morning, before a slight breeze picked up around lunchtime, Englishman John Parry set the pace with an eight-under-par 64.
A team-mate of Rory McIlroy’s in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, he leads by one from compatriot Simon Khan, with Doak and world No 8 Phil Mickelson in a cluster of players sharing third on 66.
“I’ve had a great time up here,” said Doak after storming home in five-under 31 – he holed a 20-foot birdie putt at the last – to find himself leading an 19-strong Scottish contingent on the banks of the Moray Firth.
“I won my first tournament [the Scottish Young Masters] at Dornoch, won my first four-rounder [the Northern Open] at Skibo Castle, won [the same event] in Aviemore and also met my wife-to-be up here, so I think I should just move up here.”
While the 35-year-old is lying 136th in the Race to Dubai, qualifying for last month’s US Open – his first major – has given him a taste for the biggest stages in the game.
“Even though I didn’t make the weekend at Merion, the confidence levels went shooting up,” added the former Tartan Tour No 1. “The aim now is to get playing in that every year – and the other three majors as well.”
On a day when 117 players broke par in a 156-strong field, it was made to look as though Graeme McDowell’s pre-event claim of the Inverness course being “easy” had been vindicated.
But, leaping to its defence, Stephen Gallacher insisted most other links courses in Scotland would have been equally defenceless in such benign conditions.
“If it was the same weather at St Andrews today, people would be shooting seven, eight and nine-under,” said the former Dunhill Links champion.
“Any links course needs the elements and today it was flat calm out there through the first 13 holes. You want it a wee bit tougher, if possible, maybe with the wind stronger so it’s not a putting tournament.”
McDowell, meanwhile, has been praised by his Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Lawrie for apologising to the tournament sponsors for his comments, which also including him claiming the event had “lost its prestige” after moving from Loch Lomond to Inverness.
“It doesn’t matter whether he [McDowell] is right or wrong, he shouldn’t have said what he said, that’s my opinion,” said the 1999 Open champion. You’re a European Tour player, you support other players and their tournaments. If you don’t want to play, then don’t play.
“It’s unlike him. I’ve never heard him say something like that before. He is a good lad and I’ve got a lot of time for him. I don’t know what happened on this occasion.”