Tom English on Scottish Open: Course proves a breeze

Phil Mickelson tees off on the 9th. Picture: Getty
Phil Mickelson tees off on the 9th. Picture: Getty
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TOO much beauty, not enough beast. Whatever you think of Graeme McDowell’s commentary on Castle Stuart being too easy, the man had a point and it was proven yesterday in the opening round of the Scottish Open.

Thirty-three eagles and 648 birdies. For this wondrous place to be at its most testing it needs the assistance of wind to strengthen its defences, but it didn’t get it. As an illustration of what it was like yesterday, Phil Mickelson shot 66 and said later that he was going to have to work on his touch before his second round. Six-under and Mickelson described his game as merely solid. He was happy with his start, but hardly delirious.

On days such as this you will the weather Gods to have a say, you hope that a breeze gets up and poses problems for the field, making them scrap for their score rather than have it as straightforward as they did. This is a different golf course when it’s blowing. We have been saying that for three years and rarely have we had the conditions to prove it. It doesn’t even have to blow that hard for its personality to change and for the scores to rise.

Alas, it remained calm pretty much all day. There was a touch of breeze in the afternoon but nothing to write home about. It was a bit of a turkey shoot out there. John Parry, the Englishman leads, on eight-under after his 64. His countryman, Simon Khan, is one behind at seven-under with a small battalion tucked in behind them at six-under, Chris Doak included.

The Scot went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie at one point in his round and never let up until the end when sinking a 20-footer for another birdie on the ninth green – his 18th hole. Quite frankly, anybody who didn’t break par in such benign conditions ought to have had a word with themselves afterwards, Ernie Els among them. The Open champion shot a level-par 72 and the smiley demeanour he had on Wednesday was replaced with a frown and a barely concealed thunder.

Els got himself into some hairy spots and couldn’t plot his way out of them all that well, unlike Mickelson who managed to make a lot of errors in his round while still scoring wonderfully. The American has made no secret of his love for Castle Stuart and he’ll love it a whole lot more now.

“We had such perfect conditions,” he said. “There’s opportunities on this golf course on a lot of the holes to make birdies and eagles. There were a lot of low scores out there. I love everything about this place. It plays extremely well under all conditions. I think from a design stand-point it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen and these firm and fast conditions are great for next week (at Muirfield). It gives me the opportunity to hit all the short shots I’ll play at the Open, all the bump-and-run shots, the chips around the greens, the putts off the green. And it doesn’t beat you up. It doesn’t punish you the way we’ll get punished next week. You can only handle so much of that.”

Mickelson said he wasn’t all that sharp in his execution, which makes you wonder what he might be capable of once he gets his eye in. Luke Donald won the first Castle Stuart Scottish Open with a 19-under total. Jeev Milkha Singh won it last year on 17-under. Those numbers will be challenged if the weather stays calm. For the championship’s sake you hope that the God of wind gets his act together and sends some of his anger in this direction before Sunday.

Parry is our leader for now and here we saw the continuation of some half-decent form by the Englishman. He was top-ten at the BMW last month, a tournament won by Els. He was also top-30 at the US Open at Merion. “I’ve been playing better,” he said. “The US Open was the catalyst for me to start playing better and making cuts. I quite like this type of golf. On links courses I find it easier to see shots and when you get in trouble you can use banks and stuff to get out of trouble.” Trouble? How much trouble can a man who had an eight-under par actually find? Not a lot.

The army of guys on six-under includes Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, a winner at the Malaysian Open earlier in the year. “It isn’t always this warm,” said the slightly bemused Aphibarnrat, the sun beating down on him at the time. “I heard Scotland should be cold, wind and rain. I’m quite surprised.” Of course, Doak is on that number as well. Unlike most of the others at the business end of the leaderboard, Doak was out late in match number 49 of 52 whereas Parry had been in match two and Khan in match one teeing off at 7.30am when even the hint of breeze that existed in the afternoon wasn’t a factor.

“ A few (good) bounces here and there, a few putts holed and the eagle at the second from 50 feet always gives you a boost,” said Doak. “I’d never played here before until the practice round and it’s great when you look out on the Firth. I’ve always loved it up this way, around Inverness, and it’s great to play links again. We play Skibo, Dornoch when we’re up this way and this place is right up there with them.”

Doak missed the cut at the US Open but the experience has stood to him and he says his confidence has soared for having played at Merion. “It was good to be in amongst it,” he said. He’s in amongst it here, too.

Everybody is expecting the birdie blitz to continue today. Red-hot heat and red-hot scoring. Castle Stuart is being taken apart, but what a gorgeous sight it is all the same.

Goya unperturbed by body politics of girlfriend’s nude magazine pose

TANO Goya shot 68 in his first round at the Scottish Open, but his girlfriend rather than his game was the main subject of conversation when the Argentinian spoke afterwards.

Goya is dating Scot Carly Booth, the 21-year-old from Comrie who captured headlines after posing nude in ESPN magazine’s “body issue”.

Booth, who won twice on the ladies tour last year, appears in the special edition of the magazine along with other stars including American footballers, basketball and baseball players, boxers, a snowboarder, the tennis player John Isner and Gary Player, who, at the age of 77, bares all on the cover.

“I’m very pleased for Carly,” said Goya yesterday. “She was a little bit nervous to do it and she asked me if I was okay about her doing it. I told her to go for it because it’s a very prestigious sports magazine.

“It’s not like some men’s magazines – it’s more artistic and very well respected. They feature a lot of the best athletes in the world from every sport, and she’s fit and definitely has the body to be featured in a magazine like that, so I’m very happy for her to be there – and I like the pictures very much. She is pleased, and as soon as I knew she was comfortable with it, then it was perfect for me, too.

“I showed it to my friends and most of them haven’t said much. Some people might not like them. They might not agree that it’s good to see a golfer naked swinging at the ball.

“I’ve had some comments from people on Facebook but, for me, I’m really pleased. It’s something different, it’s a form of art. The guys on Tour are very respectful. If they think something about it they have kept it to themselves – but I don’t care whatever people say.

“She was in good company with a legend like Gary Player doing it as well. It was unbelievable that he did it. He was very brave to do it at 77 years old, but he’s an inspiration for people because he still so fit.”