Graham Fox on the run on day one of Northern Open
The 45-year-old harnessed the firm, fast conditions to good effect and posted a battling two-under 69 to lead by a shot from Max Jordan and the two-time Northern Open champion, Paul O’Hara.
Due to his work commitments as a PGA pro, Fox didn’t have time for a pre-tournament reconnaissance mission over the classic Moray links.
But the former Scottish PGA champion from West Kilbride used all his golfing nous and experience to negotiate his way to the top of the standings with a canny, composed display.
“I got to the house I’m staying in at 10.30pm the night before so I never got a practice round,” said Fox, who was runner-up to Alastair Forsyth in the 2019 Northern Open at Newmachar. “But sometimes, that can work in your favour. You just go out and play.”
A trio of brides over his first 10 holes had Fox riding high but back-to-back bogeys at 11 and 12 halted his advance. The former European Tour campaigner rallied, however, and made a birdie on the 14th before knocking a 5-iron to within a foot of the pin on the last to finish with a flourish.
“Anything more than a foot and I would’ve been worrying with a putt,” added Fox with a self-deprecating chuckle. “It was a good day. It was firm and fast and you could scuttle it along for miles. It was a great test that required concentration and patience.
“Every time you tee-up you want to win. This is a great old tournament and one that I’d love to win.”
O’Hara, fresh from victory in the Balmore Order of Merit 36-holer last week, picked up a late birdie at the 17th in a one-under 70 as the 2017 and 2021 Northern Open champion found himself at the sharp end again.
He was joined on that mark by Englishman Jordan, who picked up birdies at the first and second, gave them back with bogeys at three and six but dipped under-par again with another gain on the 17th.
Welshman Gareth Wright had mounted an early offensive on the summit with an eagle on the second and birdies at the fourth and sixth. The 2018 Northern Open champion came unstuck, though, with bogeys at eight, 13, 16 and a double-bogey on the last in a one-over 72.
Aberdeen veteran Scott Henderson, the Northern Open winner at Cruden Bay way back in 1996, also opened with a 72, one better than Edinburgh man Neil Fenwick while Livingston-based Chris Doak carded a 74.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh resident Richie Ramsay led the way among a 12-strong Scottish contingent in the first round of the Scandinavian Mixed, which features players from both the Ladies European Tour and DP World Tour.The four-time DP World Tour winner signed for a four-under-par 68 at Ullna Golf & Country Club in Stockholm, where German Yannick Paul and Dane Niklas Norgaard set the pace with matching 65s.