That effort on home soil catapulted Warren from 125th to 70th in the Race to Dubai, securing his card for next season. The weight lifted from his shoulders was evident as the 34-year-old opened with a five-under-par 66 to earn a share of the lead after the first round at the Hertfordshire venue. This is more like it from Warren, who’d managed to break into the world’s top 50 for the first time 18 months ago but had been on a downward spiral until reminding us how quickly fortunues can change in this game.
“It definitely helps,” he admitted of being able to tee up for the first time this season without fretting about his future. “Bogeys probably don’t mean quite so much. It’s tough when you’re trying to secure your playing rights. But I felt as if I handled that quite well last week and gave myself a nice boost of confidence after a pretty tough summer. I’ve carried that confidence into today, when I felt really solid tee-to-green, and hopefully the next three days, as well.”
The highlight of the Scot’s round was a tap-in eagle-3 at the second – his 11th – that was an example of him getting a bit of his swagger back.
“I had 235 yards into the wind off the left, so perfect number for 5-wood,” he said. “I said to Ken [Herring], my caddie, that it’s not often you walk up and tap-in for eagle, which was pretty sweet.”
Finn Mikko Ilonen, Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and South African Richard Sterne also opened with five-under salvos on the course where Tiger Woods won the WGC-American Express Championship just over 10 years ago.
“I’m delighted to shoot 66,” said Warren, who had just recorded the first of his three European Tour triumphs around the same time. “The wind was getting up as we were going around and changing direction as well, so it is really pleasing. I wasn’t really under too much stress at any time during the round, so a really enjoyable round of golf.”
Sitting 117th in the Race to Dubai and needing to climb into the top 110 by the end of next week’s Portugal Masters, Scott Jamieson got the encouraging start he was looking for in the shape of a 68 to sit joint-11th, but Stephen Gallacher and Craig Lee each had to settle for a four-under 70.
Edinburgh-based Lee Westwood finished on four-under, enjoying a welcome upturn in fortune after a disappointing Ryder Cup then running up an 82 at Kingsbarns as he missed the Dunhill Links cut. “I’m really pleased, it’s the best I’ve played in quite a while,” said Westwood, who will succeed Luke Donald as tournament host next year, with Close House in Northumberland expected to be announced as the venue shortly.
Elsewhere, Longniddry man Raymond Russell opened with a flawless seven-under 65 to share the lead in the Beko Classic in Belek, where fellow Scot Graham Fox had a hole-in-one at the 17th at Gloria Golf, Antalya, Turkey.