Notah Begay III, winner of his last two starts on the US PGA Tour, and course record holder, Retief Goosen of South Africa, set the pace in the first round of the Standard Loch Lomond with six under par 65s.
The native American indian – a member of the Navajo tribe – conjured up an eagle and five birdies to force his way to the top of a high quality leaderboard containing not only Goosen but a clutch of major champions in Tom Lehman, Nick Faldo and Paul Lawrie.
Begay, 27, felt an extremely low score was possible when he stood seven under par after 13 holes, but a bogey at the last dropped him back into a share of the lead with Loch Lomond specialist, Goosen, who established the course record of 62 in the 1997 tournament won by Lehman.
The man from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said: “I haven’t really shot a very low score this year, but felt like today would be the day when I got to seven under. However I don’t know the course well and hit a couple of poor shots.
“I will just keep plugging away and hope to be in a good position on Saturday. I just want to be as close to the lead as possible going into the final round. It’s a very talented field and I have to play smart golf and see what happens.”
Goosen’s own record was never under threat as he got off to a weak start of two bogeys. In fact, a sub par score might have looked good at that point, before the South African launched a counter-offensive with five birdies in the next six holes and three more on the back nine.
A 65 was a superb return on his day’s work and Goosen said: “Overall I’m very happy. I had 25 putts today after changing my putter. Sometimes changing the putter makes you look at putts differently and my putting today was the key. Everyone on Tour hits the ball the same but it’s just down to who holes the putts.”
The hottest three-ball of the day saw Lehman, Faldo and rookie professional Adam Scott from Australia record a cumulative 14 under par total. Lehman, who shot the tournament record of 265 three years ago, shot s 67 which was matched by teenager Scott while Faldo’s bogey at the 17th cost him the chance to finish level with his two partners.
In the circumstances, Faldo was happy with his renaissance over the past few weeks. He finished seventh in the US Open and showed signs of sustaining that rich vein of form with his six-birdie round.
“I’ve been practising hard to keep things rolling along” he explained. “The key was to hit good solid shots. I played with Ernie Els in practice to copy his rhythm. I’m glad I was able to impress him. I’ve been working on the balance, the timing, the rhythm and trying hard to shape my shots more. All those things are starting to come back.”
Scott’s only error was a bogey on the 17th, but otherwise it was a fine effort but the youngster who made such an encouraging start to his European Tour career as an amateur in Morocco.
Scott commented: “I am very happy with 66 today, especially playing with Tom and Nick. I was a little nervous on the first tee but they are nice guys and made me feel comfortable.”
Faldo was full of praise for Scott, who has many similar traits to a certain Tiger Woods. Faldo joked: “He hasn’t watched any Tiger Woods videos, has he? He was very impressive. I think once he progresses with age, especially if he gets on Tiger’s physical programme, he’ll be very good. Tiger is driving all those kids to a new level. Thank God I’m retiring!”
Open champion Lawrie showed that he is gradually returning to peak form just in time for his defence of the claret jug at St.Andrews next week, while defending champion Colin Montgomerie shot a one under par 71, the same score as World No.2 David Duval, who managed to break par without the benefit of a practice round.