Two golfers who know what it takes to do well at Loch Lomond, Phillip Price and Eduardo Romero, and one of the form players of the moment, José Manuel Lara, shared the lead after the first round of The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
The Welshman, the Argentine and the Spaniard all carded five under par 65s on the Bonnie Banks to move one shot ahead of Italy’s Emanuele Canonica with eight players on 67 including former champion Tom Lehman.
Last year Price finished tied second behind Ernie Els and the 37 year old recreated some of the same form in his opening round this year. He had six birdies in total without shedding a shot, the highlight of the round being three in a row from the sixth.
“Other than Ernie who played really well, I played pretty good last year so there must be something about the Scottish air that I like,” he said before admitting that the wonderful Tom Weiskopf designed course was growing on him.
“The first few times I came I missed the cut and threatened never to come again,” said Price. “I didn’t play any good and I thought it was perhaps a bit long for me. But my game is improving and I am now at the stage where I should be able to play on any golf course.”
Joining Price was Spaniard Lara who carried on the good work he began in last week’s Smurfit European Open at The K Club. After five successive missed cuts, the 27 year old found his game in Ireland and finished in a tie for fifth place and he carried that on with a flawless 65 in the first round in Scotland.
Although he narrowly missed out on picking up one of the places on offer for the 133rd Open Golf Championship next week, Lara admitted his appetite for trying to pick up the one spot available this week had been regenerated, largely by the experience of playing the final round in Ireland with US Open champion Retief Goosen.
“It was the first time that I had played with Retief and it was good to play with him in one of the biggest tournaments on The European Tour,” said Lara. “I learned a few things from him about how to play in difficult conditions that will hopefully help make a difference to me in the future.
“I learned from him the way that he plays the course, he doesn’t make a spectacular run of holes or anything like that, but he always knows where to put the ball and he looks in control of the situation and concentrates really well.”
Completing the leading triumvirate was Argentine Romero, winner of the event in 2002 and a man only eight days from his 50th birthday, meaning, should he win again on Sunday night, he would become the oldest winner in European Tour history.
“People ask me when I am going to the Seniors Tour but I say I don’t want to go to the Seniors Tour full time just yet,” he said. “My game is for the regular tour and I would like to stay here as long as I can.
“Having said that I am going to play two British Opens in two weeks coming up, the Open at Royal Troon and then the Senior British Open at Royal Portrush and I am really looking forward to that.”
Should he continue in a similar vein as today, he could well be a contender in both the Major Championships as he made a mockery of the tough conditions and the course playing to its full length of 7088 yards because of the rain with seven birdies in total in his 65 which more than made up for his only dropped shot of the day at the fourth where he three putted.
Out in the last group of the day, Italian Canonica took fourth spot on his own with a fine 66 which threatened more when he opened with four birdies in his first six holes, but bogeys at the tenth and 12th slowed his momentum slightly.
Emphasising the high quality of the field, a top class chasing pack of eight followed behind after all carding opening 67s, Philip Golding, Mark Roe, Marcus Fraser, Tom Lehman, Ian Poulter, Christian Cévaër, Kenneth Ferrie and Peter Hedblom.
Lehman was champion of the tournament in 1997 and admitted that he always relished his return to Loch Lomond.
“I’ve been here most years in the last eight or nine but I just love coming here, it is a great golf course, fabulous surroundings and great fans and it helps me prepare for the Open next week,” he said.
“I really enjoy being here and I think that is the big part of why I do well here. I am very comfortable with the golf course and when I enjoy being at a certain place, my attitude is good and my expectation level is high and that is what I feel when I come here.”
Further down the leader board defending champion Ernie Els recovered from being out in one over par 36 – when he bogeyed the 17th and 18th – to card two birdies without further error on the inward half to finish with a one under par 70.
“I have got to be happy with 70 but I could have made a few more putts, I felt like I left a couple of putts out there but I am happy with that, first round back and under par,” said the South African.
“I thought I played the 17th and the 18th very poorly this morning, from really nowhere I made bogey so that kind of put me on the back foot but other than that it was pretty consistent. I had 31 putts so I can do better than that I know.”