IT WAS the obvious stand-out grouping of the day and, while there may not have been much in the way of fireworks along the way, the golf was of sufficient quality to keep the big crowd following Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Marc Warren amply rewarded for their scenic trek around Gullane yesterday.
The defending champion was the most satisfied at the end, as Rose recorded a tidy four-under 66 which contained just a solitary bogey. His 2013 counterpart Mickelson was left to rue the wayward putting that prevented him posting a more imposing opening salvo than a 69 – which didn’t really do justice to ball striking that got better as the round progressed.
Warren added a bit of tartan flavour to the starry mix and was relatively happy with a level-par 70 which he had to admit was a fair result for forging a benign path that spurned both risk and opportunity.
“I think everything was just okay,” said the Glaswegian world No 65. “I wasn’t hitting it close enough to make a lot of birdies but I wasn’t exactly miles away either. I seem to have been in a few weeks of that phase of golf.”
Warren, whose late collapse at Castle Stuart in 2012 cruelly denied him the chance to call himself a past winner of this event, like yesterday’s playing partners, relished the illustrious company nevertheless.
“Obviously it was very exciting when I saw the draw on Tuesday and it was great playing with two superstars of golf today,” said the 34-year-old, who also finished third behind Rose at Royal Aberdeen last year.
“I’d never played with Mickelson before but I had with Justin a few times and it is always a pleasure. Phil was a gentleman, so it was a good day. The crowds were incredible. Every tee, every fairway, every green was lined.
“These guys probably play in front of that week in, week out but for me, especially in Scotland, it was an extra treat to be in that company and the support was amazing.
“Overall it was a good day, I would like to have scored better but hopefully tomorrow sets up a good weekend.”
The match got under way at lunchtime and all three gobbled up pars at the first.
Rose made the first move with a birdie at the long par-5 second, before Mickelson became the first to flirt with negative territory when he overcooked a chip at the par-3 third and made the first of a few wobbles on the green.
The American slipped again at the fourth but responded well by joining Warren in helping himself to a birdie at the fifth as Rose, who was by now two-under after another birdie at the fourth, settled for par – a routine both he and Mickelson continued for the rest of the front nine.
The Scot came to grief at the sixth and seventh as back-to-back bogeys saw one-under become one over. But he got back to equilibrium with a birdie at the tenth and then parred the last eight holes.
Rose and Mickelson were more attacking and were four and two-under respectively by the time they got to the par-3 17th. However, while the Scot comfortably made par the two previous champions took bogeys with them to the 18th tee.
Rose responded magnificently at the last with a crisp birdie putt, while Lefty’s putting woes resurfaced and he had to settle for par.
“I struggled on the greens today,” said Mickelson. “I didn’t feel good on them and didn’t capitalise on a number of opportunities. But it was a good first day to get back in it after skipping the last few weeks, taking them off.
“I was a little rusty on the front nine and hit much better shots on the back. The greens are in perfect shape. They don’t break too much and you can really make a lot. But I didn’t putt very well.”
The defending champion, meanwhile, was able to reflect on a “good, solid start”.
Rose said: “Part way through my back nine I was kind of feeling that I wanted to finish strong and managed to make a putt on 16 and gave that back at 17 with a sloppy three-putt. But it was nice to birdie the last.
“I think I felt pretty calm and comfortable out there. It felt like it was a pretty stress-free day. I didn’t burn up too much energy out there and it was a nice way to finish obviously.”