A SCOT hasn’t lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews since James Braid in 1910 but Marc Warren played a fine supporting role to the soaring Paul Lawrie as the home challenge got off to a solid start yesterday.
After turning at four-under, the Glaswegian wasn’t the only one to find the going tougher downwind on the back nine and he dropped shots at the 11th and 16th. But back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th means he held on to that four-under mark, three off the lead.
Carrying the good, upward-arcing form with which he surged to fourth in the Scottish Open at Gullane last weekend, the 34-year-old was proud of his day’s labours.
“It was as good as it gets, I think, at the Open at St Andrews,” he said. “I’m delighted to be under par. Conditions were tough, getting tougher as the day went on, and the back nine was a brutal finish there – 17 was almost playing a three-shotter when we were on it. I was delighted to get out of there with a par at 17 and 18.”
Sandy Lyle was celebrating two landmark milestones – 30 years since his Open victory at Royal St George’s and a 40th appearance in the championship – and he toasted them with the best opening round in his home major since Royal Troon 11 years ago.
The 57-year-old showed he could still keep up with the young guns as he posted an ultimately satisfying one-under 71 that took a few twists and turns along the way.
Lyle was sporting a fashionable blue-and-white snood to protect him from the elements while wielding a putter that was slightly less “on trend”. The 1988 Masters champion opted for an old-school hickory club on the greens, similar to the one he employed at Augusta back in April. The Scot is a keen exponent of the old-style game and won last year’s World Hickory Open at Panmure.
“It’s only about a month old but looks like it’s 1920s,” said Lyle of his Tad Moore hickory putter. “I play a lot of hickory golf, I’m putting with them all the time, so I thought why not.”
Looking back at the opening round, Lyle said: “That was a good day. A bit of a scrap in the early holes. Up and down. Then I played well coming in.”
Florida-based Highlander Russell Knox enjoyed a level-par start to his Open career after gaining a place in the field as first reserve in the wake of Rory McIlroy’s footballing misadventure.
The 30-year-old from Inverness has been based in Jacksonville since taking up a college scholarship and now speaks with a mid-Atlantic twang. However, it was his Scottish instincts that let him down at the 17th when he was, ironically, punished for keeping low instead of going airborne.
“I hit a decent drive although it was in the rough, then made a stupid mistake with my second shot,” explained Knox. “I just tried to hit a low-runner 4-iron and I hit some cross bunkers I didn’t know even existed.
“I should have hit it mid-flight, a high 4-iron. But I tried to hit it low and run up, tried to be too Scottish. I should have just pinged it high in the air.”
That cost him a double-bogey 6 to turn one-under into one-over but he responded well to birdie the last.
Richie Ramsay also had to settle for a level-par round that included a visit to Hell Bunker at the 14th which resulted in a 7.
“I haven’t really helped myself today,” said the Aberdonian. “Level par is okay. You really want to be under par, even one or two under today would have been a pretty good score.”
Three birdies in the first five holes was as good as it got for Stephen Gallacher – the last Scot home – as he slipped to one over.