Scottish Open: Jimmy Walker just behind leaders

Jimmy Walker: Bogey'free round. Picture: PA
Jimmy Walker: Bogey'free round. Picture: PA
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JORDAN Spieth may not be at Gullane but in his absence a few of his countrymen have stepped up to the plate, turning in first-round scorecards that suggest they intend to enjoy their time in Scotland more over the next couple of weeks than they did during their last competitive jaunt here, on Ryder Cup duty.

Tucked in just behind the opening day leaders, Jimmy Walker set the pace with a bogey-free round that was given its shine by two front-nine birdies followed by another three on the way home.

While some others struggled to get a feel for the greens and compute how best to play the wind and the hazards, Walker, a man still getting acquainted with links golf, claimed to have found it “pretty straightforward, and that’s nice! I grew up in Texas. It blows pretty hard there and I’m accustomed to keeping the ball down for sure.

“I was pretty solid today. I hit a couple of bad shots but I got a lot out of it. If you’re bogey free, you get a lot out of your game.”

Walker was one of the US players who did themselves justice at Gleneagles last year and has continued to build momentum, sitting second in the FedEx Cup standings with two tournament wins in 2015.

But he isn’t the only one who enjoys the challenge of the Scottish links. With the wind picking up as the afternoon groupings headed out, Rickie Fowler wrapped up a round that had taken time to ignite but had ended with four birdies – three of them on the final four holes – and no bogeys for a 66.

“I’m glad I’m done and with a 66, it’s a good start.” The fact that he is just one behind Walker and level pegging with another compatriot, Matt Kuchar, added to Fowler’s good mood. “We enjoy playing over here and enjoy playing on good golf courses, so it’s good to see Jimmy get off to a good start. We played a practice round together, as we do quite often, so it’s good to see some close buddies up there doing well and nice to feed off each other.”

Out with Ian Poulter and Jamie Donaldson, there was a relaxed air to the grouping but Fowler betrayed his intent, battling some off-line shots to keep himself in contention. It was clear he knew the value to a good round.

On the back of his Chambers Bay debacle, where his 14-over total after two rounds was only overshadowed by Tiger Woods’ hell, the 26-year-old is keen to recapture the form that won him the Players Championship earlier this year.

Seeking his first major win, he said a good performance at Gullane won’t hinder his tilt at the Open title at the Old Course, St Andrews next week.

“It can only help if you have a good, solid tournament. Whether it’s just one or two [rounds] or a full tournament, it can never hurt to play well leading into a major.”

But after years of trying to fathom it out, Matt Kuchar, who wiped out two bogeys with two birdies and two eagles in a 4-under round, is still unsure how best to peak at the only British major but is hoping that reinstating the Scottish Open into his schedule for the first time since 2011 can help.

“The British Open is one I’m still trying to figure out how best to prepare for. You have all different schools of thought. Do you come in rested? Have a couple of weeks off? Do you play the John Deere? Do you play the Scottish? There are all sorts of ways and I’m still trying to figure out my best way.”

Gullane shouldn’t do him any harm. But one thing about links golf is that it can’t be taken for granted.