On a day of two halves - a strong and gusty wind whipped up on the clifftop Fife course in the afternoon and made the test around four shots harder as the temperature also plummered - the 26-year-old Scot took full advantage of being among the morning starters to card a stunning nine-under-par 63.
That set a new course record on the Sam Torrance-designed layout, with Adrian Otaegui’s opening 62 to set up the Spaniard’s success in the Scottish Championship last October having been produced with preferred lies in operation.
The brilliant day’s work earned Hill, a three-time Challenge Tour winner but still seeking his breakthrough triumph on the main tour, a one-shot lead over Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell, with Englishman Ross Fisher, Frenchman Robin Sciot-Siegrist and American Chase Hanna all one further back.
Also out in the morning, Richie Ramsay and David Law joined Hill in putting the Saltire on the leaderboard in the £1.7 million event as they signed for 67s, the same score posted by Hanna’s compatriot, Berry Henson, as he produced an afternoon effort that was every bit as impressive as the one from Hill earlier in the day.
“We got the best part of (the weather) 100 per cent,” said the leader, smiling. “Our front nine was relatively calm, probably half a club wind, then on the back nine picked up. We got three quarters of our day in quite pleasant conditions, I think it’s just getting worse from here – we took advantage.”
The bogey-free effort was sparked by a burst of four straight birdies from the 12th after the Kirkcaldy-born player - he now lives in Crook of Devon - started his opening circuit on the back nine. He then added a fifth gain at the par-5 ninth to be out in 31.
Hill looked to have gone off the boil for a spell following some eye-catching form earlier in the year, which included tying for fourth behind Dustin Johnson in the Saudi International and also finishing third in the Kenya Savannah Classic.
But, on a day when he was back to his best, the Gleneagles-attached man kept his foot to the floor on the inward journey, picking up birdies at the third, sixth and seventh, the latter completing a full set of red figures at the par 5s.
“I putted well,” said Hill, who tied for 25th in that Scottish Championship last year. “I didn’t put it in places that caused me too much bother, but I did make my fair share of putts. One really good 15-footer on number one to save par and a lot of mid-range putts for birdies.”
Hill, who, in 171st position, is the third highest-ranked Scot in the world standings behind Bob MacIntyre and Martin Laird, sits 37th in this season’s Race to Dubai.
A strong finish to the campaign should see the three-time Challenge Tour winner secure a debut appearance in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.
“I really enjoy it (playing at home),” he admitted. “There’s a lot of family and friends who can come and watch, I always enjoy playing in front of people I know. It makes it good fun. Mum, dad, cousins, uncles, friends, a few people. I seem to enjoy it. When people are watching and rooting for me it gives me a little spur – I like it.
Hill’s sensational start came with a new caddie on the bag, having recently parted company with Phil ‘Wobbly’ Morbey. David Burns,
Hill’s coach, was on the bag for the Cazoo Classic in Wales a fortnight ago, but he has now linked up with Dan Parratt, who previously worked with former BMW PGA champion Ben An.
“He’s really good at his job, but wasn’t quite the right fit. We stopped after the Scottish Open,” said Hill of no longer having Morbey at his side. “Dan is picking up last week, this week and next week and we’ll see what happens after that. He’s good at his job as well.”
To the delight of the home fans, it was a brilliant morning for the Scots as Aberdonians Ramsay, who was playing in the same group as Hill, and Law both maintained their recent good form, as did Grant Forrest.
Ramsay, who tied for fourth in the Irish Open then finished in the top 25 in the strongest-ever Scottish Open, was also bogey-free as he signed for a 67.
The three-time tour winner opened with five straight pars before picking up three shots in four holes before adding three more gains on his inward journey.
Also playing the back nine first, 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open winner Law was out in four-under after picking up shots at the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th.
The two-time Scottish Amateur champion then bogeyed the par-4 second, but it was another encouraging effort as he then birdied the third and seventh.
After opening with a bogey, Forrest also displayed his growing confidence by carding six birdies in a 68, which left him sitting just outside the top 20.
Otaegui, who won with a 23-under-par total in October, was also among those to be dealt a favourable hand by Mother Nature before it turned windy and cold, carding a 67 that contained six birdies.
In an event featuring 17 Scots, Scott Jamieson fared best among the home players in the afternoon, recovering from a bogey-bogey start to match David Drysdale’s morning 71, two better than both Connor Syme while Ryan Lumsden, as well as top-ranked Andy Sullivan and St Andrews-based Amateur champion Laird Shepherd.
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