BOTH got to three-under. At one point, they were sharing the lead before the likes of Rory McIlroy found top gear. Neither Stephen Gallacher nor Marc Warren were disappointed, though, that they let those thrusts slip in the opening round at Hoylake.
Gallacher, Scotland’s top-ranked player, signed for a two-under 70. It matched his best opening effort in the Open Championship, having carded the same score at Royal St George’s in 2011.
His early momentum came from three birdies in a row from the fourth. He also birdied the last in outscoring both his playing partners, American Hunter Mahan (71) and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson (74).
“Any time you shoot under par at a major you know you have done well,” said Gallacher. “It is a good start and something to build on tomorrow.”
Creeping towards 40, the Lothians man is long enough in the tooth to know that sharing the lead on Thursday morning is nothing to get too excited about. “I had only played a few holes by then and you can’t start looking at that,” added the Ryder Cup contender.
“There was still a long way to go. I was just trying to get as many birdies as I could.
“I didn’t drive the ball too great. I hit a few into the rough for my bogeys, so there is always room for improvement. The game-plan and course management was good. I just need to iron out a few errant tee shots.”
While it would have been easy to think that conditions were easy from start to finish, Gallacher suggested otherwise. “The back nine was straight into the wind and was playing tough. It was becoming a club-and-a-half wind,” he reported. “The greens are drying out a bit and it is getting a bit more fiery, which is what we want.”
Warren, third in the Scottish Open last weekend, carded a 71 in the company of John Singleton, the local factory worker who came through regional and final qualifying to secure his place in this week’s field.
While Warren has a fair few people cheering him on here, he knew that the rousing first-tee reception wasn’t for him.
“It was incredible walking on to there,” he said of the noise that greeted Singleton’s arrival. “I said to him it got my adrenaline going so I can only imagine what it did to his!
“He hit an incredible tee shot considering.
“The crowds were fantastic all the way around, cheering for him and shouting his name. I think he enjoyed it, I certainly did.”
Like Gallacher, he felt the conditions stiffened as the round progressed. “I started off really well,” said Warren of bagging three birdies in the first five holes. “But the course got tougher as the day went on. So to finish under par was really pleasing.
“I could have been a few shots better off but I hit a couple of poor tee shots into the wind. So I have something to work on for tomorrow.”
Fellow debutants Jamie McLeary and Paul McKechnie both started with birdies. McLeary finished with a flourish, covering the last four holes in two-under for a 73, but McKechnie dropped four shots towards the end and had to settle for a 76.
“I really enjoyed it,” admitted McLeary, who was born in Peterhead, lived in Glenrothes for a number of years but is now based in Bonnyrigg. “I’m a bit disappointed in my score because I thought I played a lot better than one over.
“But I spoke to my dad when I came off the 18th and he said, ‘no, you were average’! That brought me back down to earth. I dropped a lot of shots just after the turn, out of nothing really.
“On another day I could have scored a lot lower. If I play like that again I could shoot mid to high 60s tomorrow. I’m looking forward to playing again.”
Whether Sandy Lyle shares that opinion is debatable after an error-strewn 82, though that was still eight shots better than Australian Bryden Macpherson. Conqueror of Troon Welbeck’s Michael Stewart in the 2011 Amateur Championship final at Hillside, he was left feeling bruised after starting back 7-6-8-4-7. Even with four pars to finish, he limped home in 49.
In the last match of the day, Scott Jamieson got off to a decent start by covering the first six holes in level-par, twice bouncing straight back from bogeys with birdies.
His only other gain, however, came at the last and, having come after a run of four straight dropped shots from the 13th, he signed for a 77 to sit down near the bottom of the scoreboard along with Lyle, as well as Paul Lawrie and amateur Bradley Neil after their matching 79s.