Buzzing Foster first to emerge from gloom to set early pace in Perthshire

IT was a strange opening day in the Johnnie Walker Championship. First a blanket of fog caused a delay that lasted two hours and 40 minutes. Then, as the sun came out, so, too, did wasps. All sorts of insects, in fact.

They proved troublesome. Ross Fisher, one of the three members of last year’s winning Ryder Cup team in the field, was first to report the pesky devils. You could say he was stung into action. Out in 40, he stormed home in 31.

Mark Foster, who set the clubhouse target with a six-under-par 66 over the testing PGA Centenary Course, was bothered by them , too. “I was out with David Howell and Jamie Donaldson and I would say two out of the three backed off every shot,” said the Englishman. “They were mainly wasps but there were hovver flies and I even saw a couple of bees.”

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Over one putt, Foster refused to back off. “I felt good over a birdie putt at the 12th so I hit the ball with one of them one it,” he added. “It’s going to come off when you hit it anyway – and I just felt in a good place.” It was a good decision. The putt dropped for one of eight birdies.

Six of them came on the back nine – his outward half after starting at the tenth. He was out in 30, but it could have been even better. “It could have been a special nine holes,” said the 36-year-old. In explanation, he missed a decent birdie chance at the tenth then three-putted the 16th after being “over-aggressive” with an eagle putt.

Foster has played competitively just once in the last six weeks. He warmed up for his event with some social golf in Scotland. “I played at Carnoustie on Sunday, then Kings Course here on Monday and here [the PGA Centenary] on Tuesday – a perfect three days,” he reckoned.

His recent light schedule was the result of feeling “a little bit down”. That was caused by three decent performances that went unrewarded. He finished third in the BMW International in Germany, was second a week later in the French Open then finished 14th in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. He led at some point in all of them. “I had a good run of events yet didn’t get into The Open, which was frustrating,” he admitted. Did he spend the time off blaming himself for failing to win any of those events? “Not at all,” he said. “In Germany, I was a little bit annoyed as I feel I didn’t do myself justice. But Sergio [Garcia] went crazy for a few holes.

“I then went to France and was really proud of myself, but things generally didn’t go my way. I felt I played as good as I could. I followed that on to the Scottish Open and felt that if there had been one more round, I could have had a good go at that, but that’s the way it is.

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve taken decent golf into the following weeks. I’ve played well before and lost then gone missing for five or six weeks. That was a pleasing time for me.”

Last year’s Spanish Open wasn’t. There, he was three shots clear but lost by one after missing shortish putts on two of the closing three holes. “I learned a lot from that,” he said. “I would say I lost that tournament through nerves really, just not controlling myself.

“But I think it took that week for me to be able to play the way I’ve been playing at the moment, where I have more belief in myself and know I can do it. I think I’m a better person and a better player.”

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Foster, whose sole win on the European Tour came in the Dunhill Championship in South Africa eight years ago, is originally from Worksop – Lee Westwood’s home town in Nottinghamshire. He had a spell out in Singapore but is now based in London.

“I was in Singapore for several reasons, mainly for my wife’s job, but I’m now settled back in London,” said the 36-year-old. “I’ve got a good quality of life and a good routine at home. It feels easier at the moment. I joined The Wisley, where a lot of the lads play, including the Molinaris.”

Foster played plenty of team golf as an amateur – he was on the Great Britain & Ireland side that beat an American side that included Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl – but not as a professional. That could change soon. He’s on course to earn a place in Britain and Ireland’s Seve Trophy side for the first time.

“I’ve been trying hard all year to make it and if it comes around it will be a massive thing for me,” he noted of next month’s match against Continental Europe in Paris.

As the afternoon starters faced a return to the Perthshire course this morning to complete their opening rounds, Foster held a single-shot lead in the clubhouse over Spaniard Ignacio Garrido and Tano Goya from Argentina.

Among the later starters were Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, Ryder Cup captains past and present.

Montgomerie, the tournament chairman, started birdie-eagle but then dropped shots at the third and fourth as he reached the turn in 35, one-under.

Earlier in the day, Englishman Nick Dougherty was two-under after three and joint-leader. However, his horror run of missed cuts going back to last November looks set to reach 21 after he fell away to a 76.

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Dougherty, a member of the last three Seve Trophy sides who has slumped from 46th in the world three years ago to 773rd, ran up a quadruple-bogey 7 on the short sixth and was six-over before closing with an eagle that does at least give him some hope of surviving to the weekend.

l Admission at Gleneagles today will cost £5, with the host venue donating all the revenue from on-the-day ticket sales to clubgolf, Scotland’s junior golf initiative.

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