Birthday boy Euan Walker shares Scottish Stroke Play lead at Gleneagles

Barassie's Euan Walker tees off at the 18th on the King's Course at Gleneagles en route to sharing the first-round lead in the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship. Picture: Kenny Smith
Barassie's Euan Walker tees off at the 18th on the King's Course at Gleneagles en route to sharing the first-round lead in the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship. Picture: Kenny Smith
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Euan Walker recovered from an early “fright” to celebrate his 23rd birthday in perfect style by earning a share of the lead in the first round of the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship at Gleneagles.

Catching the eye of his on-form compatriot, Euan McIntosh, as he carded a 68 in the game behind, Walker opened with a three-under-par 67 in a troublesome breeze on the King’s Course at the Perthshire resort.

On-form Turnhouse player Euan McIntosh opened with a 68 to sit one shot off the lead at Gleneagles. Picture: Kenny Smith

On-form Turnhouse player Euan McIntosh opened with a 68 to sit one shot off the lead at Gleneagles. Picture: Kenny Smith

That matched an earlier effort by Yorkshireman Sam Rook before Dutchman Koen Kouwenaar made it a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard late in the day.

“That was quite good. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for anything better on my birthday,” admitted Walker, a member at Kilmarnock (Barassie), after signing for six birdies, including a brace to finish.

The highest-ranked home player in the field due to his Eisenhower Trophy team-mate, Ryan Lumsden, being an absentee, Walker had been caught out by the speed of the greens right at the start of his round.

“They are so quick and from above the hole at the first I knocked it 10-12 past, giving myself a bit of a fright, but managed to save par,” he added. “That was big at the start, as was holing from 10-12 feet for a birdie at the third.”

Castle Park's Connor Wilson, the Scottish Boys' champion, opened with a 68 to sit one off the lead in the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship. Picture: Kenny Smith

Castle Park's Connor Wilson, the Scottish Boys' champion, opened with a 68 to sit one off the lead in the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship. Picture: Kenny Smith

Lumsden, the top Scot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, has decided to take this week off ahead of the Eisenhower Trophy while Sandy Scott, the third member of the side heading to Carton House in Ireland next week, is back at his college in Texas at the moment.

“I didn’t really consider missing this event,” said Walker, who finished a spell at the University of Missouri last a year past May. “I’ve not played competitively since the Scottish Amateur at the start of the month so thought it was important to play here before a big event next week.”

McIntosh, who is bidding to land a fourth successive title triumph after wins in the Scottish Amateur, Leven Gold Medal and North-East District Open, was pleased with his two-under effort in the circumstances.

“Not bad,” said the 49-year-old, “especially when I didn’t get to hit any balls before I went out due to the fact it took me 40 minutes to get parked. It was a bit funky at the start but, after five holes, I was okay.”

McIntosh, who became the oldest player in 30 years to be crowned as Scottish Amateur champion when he claimed that crown at Blairgowrie, reckons his putting will need to improve if he’s going to pull off a notable double.

“I had 35 putts in that score today,” added the Turnhouse player, who is preparing for a second crack as a professional on either the Champions Tour or European-based Staysure Tour after he turns 50 next February.

“Against this field of good young lads, I will need to be at my very best so he putts will have to start going in. I wish I still putted like I did when I won events like the Scottish Assistants Championship back in 1992. I was a fearless putter then and just smashed it at the hole.”

Rook, who shared top spot in the 36-hole qualifying for this year’s English Amateur Championship, carded six birdies while Kouwenaar made his score with a burst of three birdies to finish.

Alongside McIntosh on two-under are two fellow Scots, Connor Wilson and Ben Ferguson, as well as English duo Billy McKenzie and Jordan Sundborg.

Wilson, the Scottish Boys’ champion, was four-over after five holes before bouncing back with seven birdies, including five in the last seven holes as he stormed home in 31.

“I’m pleased with that score, especially after I was really struggling at the start,” admitted the 17-year-old Castle Park player. “I holed a couple of good putts, the best of which was a 35-footer up the hill at the 17th.”

Wilson is a product of the Stephen Gallacher Foundation and won its flagship event at Macdonald Cardrona near Peebles earlier in the year.

“I played a practice round with Stephen at The Renaissance Club earlier in the summer,” he revealed of the role Gallacher is playing in his development. “It was good to see how he does things, especially around the greens.”

Ferguson, the Western Australia Amateur champion, illuminated his card with an eagle-2 at the 14th while Sundborg finished with a flourish, following birdies at the 16th and 17th with an eagle-3 at the last.

World No 10 Robin Dawson, the highest-ranked player in the field, had to settle for a 72 but that was a gutsy effort after he was six-over with seven holes to play.