He was honest enough to admit he didn’t really know what to expect, but David Law was a happy bunny. And no wonder after the Aberdonian marked the European Tour’s restart after being in lockdown since early March due to Covid-19 by setting the pace in the Betfred British Masters at Close House, near Newcastle.
Under the circumstances, a bogey-free seven-under-par 64 – it included seven birdies in eight holes – was a brilliant effort. For starters, it showed no signs whatsoever of any rust after such a lengthy break. It was also produced in an unusual environment due to the event being played behind closed doors and strict safety protocols being enforced.
“It’s been a bit funny and a bit strange, but not tough to stick to,” said Law of arguably the most important thing this week, which is the European Tour delivering a safe event as it gets back up and running with a new six-tournament UK Swing.
“All in all, the tour’s done a fantastic job. You expect things would take a little longer, and everyone’s come in this week expecting to have to be patient. There might be mistakes made, but I haven’t seen any, to be honest. I think the tour’s done fantastic just to put on tournaments, much less make them run as well as it’s been run so far this week.”
On an overcast and sometimes wet day at the Northumberland venue, the two-time Scottish Amateur champion started with five straight pars before moving into top gear. He reeled off five birdies in a row from the sixth, produced a brilliant up and down from thick rough to salvage a par-4 at the 11th then birdied the next two holes as well.
Law, who is managed and mentored by Paul Lawrie, recorded a breakthrough win on the main tour in the Vic Open 17 months ago in his rookie season. He’d been struggling with his game before lockdown, but a recent course-record 60 in a club medal at Hazlehead had hinted he was back on top form.
“I’ve played quite a lot at Hazlehead in the Saturday and Wednesday medals to get a card back in my hand,” he said after an effort that earned him a one-shot lead over English duo Garrick Porteous and Oliver Fisher, as well as Italian Renato Paratore. “Our match secretary said ‘crack on’ and I just came out of the competition at the end. It means I still get a game. It’s good to play a little with my mates, my brother and stuff. Rather than doing a lot of practice as I would normally do, I’ve been playing a lot more golf.”
Asked if that had reminded him of when he was coming through the amateur ranks, he added: “Yeah, it was good being able to have a bit of a laugh while playing golf. You don’t get the chance to do it very often. I think when you play a lot of golf trying to score and be mindful of that, it helps.
“It’s tough to really prepare yourself to come out and play tournament golf. Today’s just one round, it’s a great score, and I need to keep going and build on it. But, at the same time, I’m still pretty relaxed about things. I know it’s not all going to go my way for the rest of the week, and I’ll be accepting of mistakes.”
Law’s effort was his lowest score on the European Tour and also his best effort since closing with a 66 to claim that Vic Open win. “I’ve been working with my coach, Alan McCloskey, on a couple of things,” he said of how he’d used lockdown to his advantage. “We needed to change some things and never really had the time to do it. A couple of set-up things we did early on in the lockdown, and I had a set-up at home to do stuff there before the courses opened again. The difference has been gaining like ten yards through the air in ball flight.”
Law was on fire after making those five birdies on the spin and reckoned a brilliant up and down from thick stuff at the 11th to save par had been huge in terms of his momentum. “Pretty lucky really,” he said of that in an honest admission. “I probably had too much opportunity with the second shot, tried to hit the perfect shot and overturned it. Luckily we found it and I had a decent lie, managed to get up and down and that was a real momentum keeper. The two on the next hole, the 12th, was probably the pick of my birdies. It was playing tough with wind off the left and I hit a 4-iron to about ten feet.”
Law was joined in getting off to a promising start by compatriot Calum Hill, who carded six birdies, including two in the final three holes, as he opened with a 67 to sit in a tie for eighth. Like Law, the 25-year-old Fifer benefitted from the enforced break, having been struggling with his game at the start of his rookie season on the top tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour.
“I wasn’t in great shape, so the break was timely for me to put a lot of work in,” said Hill, a three-time winner on the second-tier circuit. “Not that good weeks weren’t good, it would just fall apart and I wouldn’t know how to fix it. Now, thanks to the work I have been doing with my coach, Davy Burns, I have an idea of what goes on in my swing and what my tendencies are, and how to quickly correct it if they’re a little off from day to day. It’s worked out well for me.”
Richie Ramsay is handily-placed on 69, but it was a day to forget for others, including recent Austrian Open winner Marc Warren as he shot a 78, the same as David Drysdale.
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