Mark Tullo overcame a nightmare 30-hour journey en route to the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts to soar into a share of the first round lead, alongside Englishman Jason Barnes, courtesy of a six under par 65.
Both players carded bogey-free rounds to move one shot clear of a eight-strong chasing pack on five under par at the sun-kissed Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club.
But Tullo’s round was all the more impressive given he had only arrived in the stunning mountain-side resort of Aviemore at 10pm the previous evening, having fallen foul of the chaos caused by an air traffic controller strike in France.
The Chilean was originally due to land on Scottish soil on Tuesday afternoon, but delays and cancellations added over 30 hours to his journey, meaning he had no practise round before signing for his lowest score of the season.
Tullo, who claimed a tied third place finish in his last event at the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open, teed off at the 11th and carded successive birdies at the 12th and 13th holes before another at the ninth took him to the turn in three under.
Three more birdies on the way home took him one shot clear alongside Barnes, and Tullo was delighted with his round.
“It took me over 30 hours to get here from Malaga,” said the two-time Challenge Tour winner, whose second victory came in Egypt with a certain Rory McIlroy in the field as an invite. “I was supposed to be here on Tuesday at 2pm, so it was a nightmare getting here.
“I even thought about grabbing a train from London, where I had a stop-over, because I was worried I might not make the tournament, but luckily enough I got here in the end.
“Luckily I had played here a couple of times before so I know this place very well but it helped having good weather and I'm really happy with the round.
“I hit some good shots and made some good putts. I didn’t even have a chance of a bogey out there. It was very steady, I hit every green. It was an easy scoring day for me, no mistakes, and I hit 17 greens and made good birdies.”
Tullo, who has Scottish ancestry, is relishing the weather and the atmosphere at the Speyside venue and is feeling confident for the rest of the week.
“It’s amazing here in this weather,” he said. “I actually barely recognized the golf course without the wind.
“For me, Scotland with sunny weather is one of the best places in the world. Playing golf here with this weather is just priceless. It’s still fun with wind and rain but in this weather, this golf course is amazing. Hopefully the weather will help for the rest of the week. I'm feeling comfortable and calm.”
Barnes was also hugely impressed by the lay-out, which is set to the spectacular backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains, and he feels his whole game has come together for the first time this year at the €250,000 event, one of the most prestigious of the Challenge Tour season.
“It’s a great place to be, just beautiful,” said the 30 year old. “It’s much different to what I'm used to at home. I can’t hear anything, no traffic, no noise. It’s brilliant.
“Everything is really coming together nicely for me. The confidence is starting to grow. There are a few holes out there that are tough driving holes and a few weeks ago I might have wimped out and hit less club just to hit the fairway, but today it was just going for it with the driver.
“I'm confident, definitely. Bring on tomorrow, hopefully we can get more weather like this and we can see how low I go.”
Former Challenge Tour Number One Michael Lorenzo-Vera of France was one of the eight players a shot off the pace on five under par, while two-time European Tour winner Bradley Dredge of Wales was one of those a shot further back in tied 11th.