Scotland’s Elliot Saltman made up for the disappointment of missing the Barclays Scottish Open this week by leading the inaugural Acaya Open in Italy.
The 29 year old’s category did not give him exemption to the European Tour event at Castle Stuart, but a two under par 68 in the first round at Acaya Golf Resort, which put him tied for the lead with Austrian HP Bacher, gave him reason to cheer.
With many players toiling in the heat and struggling with the course’s thick rough, the pair lead Scotsman Chris Doak by one shot and Swede Martin Erlandsson by two.
Having teed off from the tenth, Saltman birdied the 13th, 14th, 16th and first but bogeyed the 17th and third.
He said: “If you don’t hit the fairway you’re in trouble. The rough is so thick. I’m struggling to nail a 9-iron out of that rough. You can hit a really good drive but if it gets a bad kick and goes in the rough, you have to just chip out with an 8-iron.
“It’s very hard so I’ll take two under. I’ve been playing well since the Wales Open. I’ve been hitting the ball great and I’ve been putting great, but a few weeks have gone by where nothing’s been happening. It’s been a bit boring missing cuts by one shot, and in the Scottish Hydro Challenge I shot four under, three over to miss by one.
“So I’ve just been keeping patient and plodding along knowing it will come, and something just clicked today. If I can keep it going hopefully it’ll be a good week.
“It was disappointing not to get into the Scottish Open – I thought I might have had an invite. But they say things happen for a reason, so if missing that means I play well here and maybe win, then I’ll have no regrets.
“It would’ve been nice to play in my home country on The European Tour but it’s a good thing I’m here for the weather as I’ve heard it’s pouring with rain in Scotland and it’s 30 degrees here.
“I thought two or three under, maybe even four, would be leading at the end of the day. It’s so easy to make fives, sixes, even sevens and eights, on this golf course. You just have to stay patient.”
Bacher, who had five birdies and three bogeys, said: “I started very well with two birdies. The second one was really good – I hit a very good 4-iron off the tee then chipped in for a two. I had a bogey on the eighth but it was okay because it’s a very tough par three.
“I just tried to stick to my game and make as many pars as possible, and pick up a few birdies when the chance came along.
“It was hot but the wind helped keep us cool. On this course if you hit the fairways and greens it’s not that hard. But the rough is thick so it’s very hard to control the ball of you go in it. If you’re around 150 metres away and in the rough, it’s very difficult to get the ball on the green.
“I’ve felt very good about my game coming into this week. I always like coming to Italy and this course is very nice. I like it here a lot.”
Doak attributed his one under par 69 to finding some form on the greens.
“I played pretty solid and hit a lot of fairways, which is what you have to do on this course,” he said. “I holed some nice putts towards the end of the round so it was nice to finish positively.”