Scotland’s Andrew McArthur got the Scottish Hydro Challenge off to a perfect start from a home perspective by leaping into the lead alongside Robert Coles and Julien Guerrier at the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club
The 30 year old Glaswegian posted a four under par 67 to set the clubhouse lead, but he was soon joined atop the leaderboard by Englishman Coles and Frenchman Guerrier.
McArthur, currently 31st on the Challenge Tour Rankings, benfitted from a lesson from coach Ian Rae before the Scottish Hydro Challenge got underway, and he is hopeful of breaking into the all important top 20 on the Rankings with a strong finish in his homeland on Sunday afternoon.
“I played really nicely, just stayed patient and tried to enjoy it,” said McArthur. “That is something that I have been trying to do because I have not been playing great and when you are in that position your expectations drop a bit so it’s easier just to play at times.
“I had a lesson yesterday with Ian Rae and that definitely helped to bring some feeling back to the swing. We worked a bit on my knock-down shots which is something you need to be on top of here because it is very linksy out there: very firm and bouncy and you are just nudging the ball down the fairways off a lot of the tees because it is running so much.
“Within five minutes of my lesson with Ian it felt great again and it was nice to go out there this morning and put that into practice. This is my first time here and it’s a great course – there are a couple of holes that I would change but you say that about any course you play.
“I am still in a decent enough position on the Rankings given that I am not playing that well. I’ll just keep plodding along this week and see what happens but the money on offer this week is a lot more than a usual Challenge Tour purse so if I can manage to do something here and get a good finish then it would certainly help the cause.”
While McArthur feels that he is getting back to his best, Coles has been at his best for most of the Challenge Tour season having won twice already this season in Morocco and Ireland.
Coles certainly displayed all of his ability to finish birdie-birdie at the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club to join McArthur and Guerrier at the top of the leaderboard, and if he can maintain that position he will gain automatic promotion to The European Tour by winning three events in a single Challenge Tour season.
“It was certainly a nice finish,” smiled Coles. “I played steady today in pretty tough conditions. When we started it was great but then it got a bit blustery. But I managed to keep a tidy card without a bogey which is always nice in those conditions.
“I am in a good position to get my card but it is hard to say because there are a lot of events to play and a couple of those are real big money events so you just never know what you are going to need until the end of the season.
“I haven’t set any real goals about how much I will need to get my card or anything like that because that can backfire on you. The only target I have set for the year is to get my European Tour card and that’s all that matters.”
Guerrier is no stranger to the windy conditions that gusted across the Macdonald Spey Valley venue having grown up playing golf in La Rochelle, the French town that is so often battered by strong winds from the Atlantic ocean.
The 24 year old proved that when he won the 2006 Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s and he was once again in control at the Scottish Hydro Challenge.
“I made a great start but after that the course became a lot more difficult because of the wind,” said Guerrier, who opened his round with three consecutive birdies. “But it is a great start, although it could have been a lot better because I lipped out three times for birdie in the last four holes. They were makeable putts, from around ten feet each time, but I cannot be too disappointed because I signed for a 67 at the end of the day.
“The conditions were tough. We had a changing wind, rain, sun – we had everything today but I think that the guys will all love this course because it is difficult and a tough test but one of the best courses that we have played this year for sure.”
With conditions toughening in the afternoon, not everyone will have been loving their time on the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club as blustery, gusting winds wreaked havoc upon many scorecards.
There were , however, some outstanding scores, most notably for Peter Baker, Sion Bebb, Ben Mason and Florian Praegant who all posted three under par 68s to lie just one of the lead.
Former Open Champion Paul Lawrie, meanwhile, made a brilliant recovery to haul himself back into contention. Three over after 12 holes of his first round and playing in the toughest conditions of the day, the Aberdonian, playing in the event to raise awareness of the Challenge Tour in Scotland, had to rely on all of his experience to claw his way back to level par.
Lawrie’s recovery saw him card a first round of level par 71 to lie four shots off the pace.
“It was a very good recovery,” said Lawire, whose 14 year old son, Craig, caddied for him. “I was very unlucky to be three over and then I played nicely coming in. It was extremely tough this afternoon. Conditions were brutal at points out there but that is what you get – it’s the luck of the draw.
“My caddie did really well,” smiled Lawrie. “He cleaned the ball, he kept up, he never made a mistake – he was really good. Even I was well behaved – I had a couple of chances to misbehave but I am proud of myself today as well!
“I think level par is a good score this afternoon so I am very happy with that. Hopefully we will get the same weather that the morning guys got today and we can get into the red and get going."