It was one of the best efforts in the history of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge. Just as impressive, in fact, as the 62 carded by Brooks Koepka when winning at Macdonald Spey Valley in 2013 and Andrew “Beef” Johnston’s 65 as he was crowned champion the following year.
On a day when a strong gusting wind proved troublesome on the Dave Thomas-designed course with its heather-flanked fairways, David Law steered his way round bogey-free in carding a five-under-par 67 in the opening round of the £220,000 Challenge Tour event in Aviemore.
The excellent morning’s work - he was out in one of the first groups at 7.30am and had already been out for a run before getting down to business - earned Law a one-shot lead over Portugal’s Pedro Figueiredo and Welshman Stuart Manley, winners of the last two events on the European Tour’s feeder circuit.
“To be bogey-free on a day like that was good as it was really tough,” admitted Law. “It was nice to be first out when it was a little calmer. I noticed around the fifth or sixth hole it was really kicking up a bit and especially at the end it was quite gusty.”
The 27-year-old Aberdonian hasn’t fared great in this event in the past, missing the cut five times in six appearances. “It’s hard to pinpoint why I have never played well here before,” he said. “Maybe at a home event you put a bit of pressure on yourself, but it’s obviously great to get off to a nice start and hopefully I can kick on from here.”
Law didn’t muster a single top 10 last season but led at the halfway stage in the KPMG Trophy in Belgium a fortnight ago before finishing joint-13th and feels confident that his game is trending in the right direction. “Last year I didn’t play well at all, but I think my game has been going the right way for quite a while, to be honest,” said the two-time Scottish Amateur champion after signing for birdies at the first, eighth, 13th, 14th and 17th.
“I missed the cut last week in France, but I was saying to (mentor) Paul Lawrie as he walked a few holes with me on Tuesday that it was probably the first time I’ve been in an airport on a Friday night and not been disappointed about that. I felt like I was still playing well. I just thought ‘I’m not worried here’ because I am playing decent.
“In Belgium I played really good in the first two days, but I hadn’t been leading a golf tournament out here for over two years, I think it was, so it was unfamiliar in that respect. But it was good to be up there again. I can hopefully draw on that this week.”
Last year’s dip in form was no coincidence. “We lost our little boy in the summer last year, so off the course it was quite a tough year,” he revealed. “Golfing-wise, when that sort of thing happens I really wasn’t interested that much. Without using that as an excuse at all, but the whole year was tough. It’s just been good to get going again, and really give it a go this year.”
Manley, a 39-year-old from Aberdare, bridged a five-year gap when claiming his second Challenge Tour title in France on Sunday, beating Grant Forrest in a play-off. “I’ve struggled with my game the last few days and also last weekend,” confessed Manley in a surprise admission after opening with a six-birdie salvo. “But sometimes I play well when that’s the case because I focus better. It’s strange because while I hate hitting it like this, I seem to be able to score well.”
He’s recorded five top 10s already this season despite being unable to put in his usual winter preparation. “I had had an operation on my arm for skin cancer,” he said. It was quite deep and in an awkward spot and I couldn’t play for 10 weeks. I was in a panic when the doctor called me to tell me but it was basal cell carcinoma, the least dangerous one you can have.”
Backing up leader Law in putting the Saltire prominent in an event won by Jamie McLeary and George Murray in 2009 and 2010 respectively, Duncan Stewart and Liam Johnston both opened with two-under-par 69s while Robert MacIntyre is also sitting in the top 10 after his 70.
“It’s something to build on,” said Grantown-on-Spey man Stewart of his effort. “It’s not easy out there. When I made the turn, it started really gusting. I was struggling to even hit my tee shot at 13 – I think hit my drive about 220 yards and I hit it as good as I could!”
Johnston, winner of the Andalucia - Costa del Sol Match Play 9 earlier in the season, recovered from starting with a double-bogey 6 to produce one of the best afternoon rounds. Five birdies, including three on the spin, wiped out that early damage.
MacIntyre took some off the gloss of a good day at the coalface by taking a double-bogey 7 at the 17th but was relieved that the damage there wasn’t worse. “It could have been any number,” said the 21-year-old left-hander from Oban.
“I went left off the tee with the first one and lost it. I hit a provisional that went left as well and, as I was looking for the second ball, I was thinking, this is just throwing away a great score here. It was looking like a bad three under and it ended up a good one under and I’m delighted with that.”
Forrest, who is sitting seventh in the Road to Ras Al Khaimah rankings after two second-place finishes this season, recovered from being three-over after six holes to post a level-par 71. “I’ve made a habit of bouncing back from setbacks this season, which is nice,” said the 25-year-old Craigielaw player.
“I don’t know what it is, to be honest. It’s just a case of trying to focus on the next shot rather than dwelling on the previous one and today was a good recovery from a poor start.”