JUST when it seemed the Scots had gone off the boil after their flying start to the season, the Saltire was prominent again on the first-day leaderboard in the Sicilian Open.
Gary Orr led the way with a six-under-par 66 – his best round of the year – to sit just two shots behind leader Peter Lawrie, while Alastair Forsyth and Craig Lee are also inside the top ten after they signed for 67s.
Scott Jamieson and Raymond Russell made promising starts as well with matching 68s to sit just outside the top 20 at the end of a low-scoring opening day at Verdura Golf Club. Orr, who started at the tenth, covered his opening eight holes in five-under, picking up four birdies in a row from the 14th, before dropping his first shot of the day at the 475-yard 18th. The 44-year-old came home in 34, two-under, to sit in a share of fourth spot, two behind Irishman Lawrie, who overtook long-time leader Soren Kjeldsen late in the day after an opening 64 containing nine birdies.
Orr finished 137th on last season’s European Tour money-list, but returned to the Qualifying School in December to secure the ninth card. The former Rookie of the Year from Helensburgh has only played in two events so far this season, finishing 25th in last week’s Hassan Trophy and 52nd the week before in the Andalucian Open.
Forsyth, who is trying to win back the card he lost at the end of the 2010 campaign, had an adventurous opening round and didn’t look set for the best of days after starting with two straight bogeys.
However, he repaired that damage with a birdie-eagle-birdie run from the third, then picked two more birdies to be out in 32. He shared the lead at one point with Kjeldsen out on the course and eventually finished five-under. “I played very well after a bad start,” said the 36-year-old, who was fifth in his season-opening Africa Open and has been in the top 50 in the two events he’s got into since.
“I hit the ball well in Andalucia, but putted poorly,” he added. “I have worked on that over the last two weeks and my putting was good today. Three of four dropped shots should have been avoided, but there were lots of positives.”
When Lee last held a card in 2008, he struggled, but, having regained a place at the top table off the Challenge Tour last year, the Stirling man now looks as though he’s feeling right at home. He started the season with two good performances in South Africa then, after being unable to secure spots through the Middle East Swing, finished 14th in last week’s Hassan Trophy.
The 34-year-old said: “Nearly every week is a new week for me in terms of venues, but I have found a swing. It’s still with me and I’ll try and make the most of it while it’s here.” His round contained seven birdies, including four in six holes from the tenth.
Jamieson’s 68 was his best round since opening the Dubai Desert Classic with a 65, which he built on to finish fifth.
Russell, who produced a flawless opening effort, is playing this week on a medical exemption, having been forced to write off most of last season due to a debilitating virus. Richie Ramsay, Marc Warren and Lloyd Saltman all opened with 71s, Peter Whiteford signed for a 73 and Steven O’Hara had a 75.
Lawrie came into the event having made only two cuts in six starts, but the 38-year-old turned the form book on its head with nine birdies and a single bogey in a new course record. He leads by one from Dane Kjeldsen and Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
John Daly had a 71, six shots better than playing partner Costantino Rocca, while rising European stars Tom Lewis and Matteo Manassero carded 68 and 72.