Gareth Wright bounced back from the disappointment of just missing the cut in the last week’s British Masters to open up a five-shot lead after the opening round of the M&H Logistics Scottish PGA Championship at Gleneagles.
On a changeable day in Perthshire, the 34-year-old West Linton professional carded an eagle and seven birdies in a nine-under-par 62 on the King’s Course as he made a flying start in his bid to regain the title he won at the same venue in 2014.
While preferred lies were in operation, Wright’s impressive effort in blustery conditions was just two shots outside the course record, set by Englishman Paul Curry in the second round of the Bell’s Scottish Open in 1992.
On a day when only 11 players in a 69-strong field broke par, Chris Doak, who signed for a 61 when he lifted this title in 2010, Ross Cameron, Jonathan Lomas and Sam Binning were Wright’s closest challengers after the opening salvos in the event’s 100th staging as they signed for matching 67s.
“I shot 11-under once, but this is right up there as one of my best scores as the weather wasn’t pretty out there at times,” said leader Wright of squally showers being mixed in with spells of sunshine.
An eagle-2 at the 309-yard 14th, where he hit his drive to 10 feet, was the highlight of the Welshman’s round, though he was just as pleased with a scrambling birdie at the sixth.
“I just about missed my tee shot when my hand came off the club and had to chip out from a bunker,” he reported.
“I then thought my third shot with a 3-wood had gone into the bushes, but it was just short and I pitched in from 45 yards. Those are the kind of lucky breaks that keep the momentum going.”
The eagle at the 14th took Wright to eight-under for the round and he admitted: “I thought I could maybe break 60 but shaved the edge of the hole from five feet at the 16th then lipped out at the 17th before finishing with a birdie.”
Wright came agonisingly close to making it into the final two rounds in the British Masters at The Grove - he fell one shot short after rounds of 70 and 73 - having achieved that feat in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
“I felt disappointed when I drove up the road on Friday night, having frittered shots away in my second round after almost holing my first shot of the day,” he said.
“But I had a lesson with my stepfather, Ian, on Saturday, hitting balls for an hour and 45 minutes, and it was more visualisation that stopped me from making the cut at The Grove.
“I’d become too robotic by trying to hit the perfect shot and the fact it was windy today helped because, even with my driver, I had to hit knock down shots occasionally.”
Doak, who beat Wright in a play-off when recording his win in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event six years ago, recovered from being one-over after eight by picking up five birdies in the last 10 holes.
“I holed a couple of long putts for birdies, including one at the 10th that I didn’t know was a par-5,” said the 38-year-old Livingston-based player, who is preparing for the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School in Spain next month.
Two-over after three, Cameron made his score with five birdies in six holes from the sixth - the pick of those gains came at the 230-yard 11th with an 8-iron - before also picking up a shot at the last.
“I’ve been playing mainly on the Pro Golf Tour this year and had six top-10s, including a fourth, but also missed about eight cuts,” said the 37-year-old Ellon man, who is among the players supported by the Paul Lawrie Foundation.
“There’s definitely progress, but I also feel there’s more to come when the Pro Golf Tour starts up again in mid-January.”
Ayrshire-based Englishman Lomas, the European Tour Rookie of the Year in 1994, two years before he won the Czech Open, illuminated his card with an eagle at the 10th while Binning, who is attached to Mearns Castle, signed for seven birdies.
Craig Ronald, the 2004 winner, is on 69 alongside Paul O’Hara, winner of the P&H Championship earlier in the season, and another of the Scottish circuit’s rising stars, Louis Gaughan.
Two-time winner and Order of Merit leader Greig Hutcheon dropped four shots in a row from the 13th as opened with a 70, one less than former European Tour player Alastair Forsyth, while defending champion Chris Kelly is 12 off the lead after he had to settle for a 74.
FULL FIRST-ROUND SCORES
62 G Wright (West Linton)
67 R Cameron (Saltire Energy), C Doak (unatt), J Lomas (Caprington), S Binning (Mearns Castle)
69 P O’Hara (North Lanarkshire Leisure), C Ronald (Carluke), L Gaughan (Bathgate)
70 G Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre Inchmarlo), I Campbell (Cheshunt Park), G hay (Grantown-on-Spey)
71 P Wardell (North Berwick), A Brown (Whitecraigs), A Forsyth (Mearns Castle), I Stoddart (Greenburn)
72 C Currie (Caldwell), C Matheson (Falkirk Tryst), G McBain (Newmachar), M Owenson (Gullane), M Loftus (Mearns Castle), J Fraser (Renaissance Club)
73 S Henderson (Kings Links), P McKechnie (Braid Hills), K McNicoll (Gullane), A Reid (West Lothian)
74 C Kelly (Taymouth Castle), K Hutton (Downfield), E Bowden (North Berwick), C Elliott (Haggs Castle), I Colquhloun (Loch Lomond), G Fox (Clydeway Golf), J McCreadie (Largs), S O’Hara (North Lanarkshire Leisure), R McConnachie (Peterculter), M Hillson (Kilconquhar Castle Estate)
75 S Milne (Balbirnie Park), A Hogg (Kingbarns Links), M Bradfield (Elie Links), S Catlin (Affordable Golf), M Pottinger (American Golf), C Sutherland (Cherry Lodge)
76 R Arnott (Bishopbriggs Golf Range), P Robinson (Largs), J McGhee (Whitehill House), C Gordon (Edinburgh Golf Centre), G Brown (Montrose Golf Links), M Kerr (Dalmahoy)
77 F Rummins (Canmore), R Neill (Drumpellier), S Gray (Lanark), S Morrison (Tain), F Mann (Carnoustie Golf Links)
78 O Huish (North Berwick)
79 A Jowett (Gleneagles Hotel), G McDougall (Elie Links), F Robertson (Lundin), G Law (Uphall), R Clarke (Golf Dedication Centre)
80 K McNiven (Gleneagles Hotel)
81 P Jamieson (Dunblane New), I Anderson (Colville Park), J Bell (Lanark), N Huguet (Musselburgh), D Flannery (Caldwell)
82 R Munro (Duddingston), C Marr (Musselburgh)
83 E MacDonald (Musselburgh), A Forrow (Whitecraigs)
Rtd C Adam (unatt)