A spectacular course record equalling ten under par 62 on the Old Course at St Andrews moved Graeme McDowell into a commanding lead after the first round of the 2004 dunhill links championship.
The 25 year old from Northern Ireland tamed the Home of Golf with some scintillating play, especially in the middle part of his round where he birdied eight holes out of ten from the fifth to the 14th, to take a three shot lead over a trio of players who all posted their scores at nearby Kingsbarns – Retief Goosen, David Howell and Peter Lonard – and James Kingston who compiled his score at Carnoustie.
But the day belonged to McDowell who was understandably delighted with his opening effort, which tied the previous best set by England’s Brian Davis in the final round of the 2003 event. The only slight tinge of disappointment for the Ulsterman was the fact that his putt for a 61 – which would have been the lowest score ever recorded on the Old Course – slipped past the right edge of the hole from eight feet.
“I was walking up to the green with my caddie, and I said to him, I saw this putt a million times on TV and I know exactly where it's going. But it turned more than I expected. It was a downhill quick left,” he said.
“It wasn't exactly one you want to leave yourself for a 61, but I had a great second shot in there and I gave the putt my best and didn't leave me that much of an effort at the end. But 62 strokes out there today, I'm very, very happy.”
Only last month McDowell carded a 62 in the final round of the BMW International Open at Gut Lärchenhof in Munich, but that was on preferred lies which meant his first round effort in St Andrews was his career low as a professional.
“Obviously, the last round in Germany doesn't mean as much as this one; being at the home of golf and everything. It's just been a great morning. It's nice to open up the dunhill links with a career score.”
First man to move into the position of closest challenger was US Open Champion Retief Goosen who, like McDowell, was flawless in his opening round at Kingsbarns, the only difference being that he only posted seven birdies to the Ulsterman’s ten.
“I’m happy with that,” admitted the South African. “We were lucky with the wind dying down a little bit on the back nine because the course is tough. I got off to a good start with a birdie on the second hole. That settled me down and then I had a good run of three birdies in a row from the fifth.
“I think Kingsbarns is the toughest of the three courses we play this week which is why I am particularly pleased and also for the fact that I think this is my best round since I returned from my injury. The key today for me was my iron play which was a lot better than it has been of late.”
Next man to join the triumvirate on seven under par was Australian Peter Lonard who made the bulk of his scoring on the outward half at Kingsbarns, birdieing four holes out of six from the third.
“Kingsbarns reminds me a little bit of Whistling Straits,” said the Australian. “It hasn’t got the length or all the bunkers between the holes, but it has a similar feel to it. I like these courses where if the wind is not up you can get a good score but if the wind gets up it is a lot tougher.”
Completing the trio of 65s at Kingsbarns was David Howell, the Englishman carrying on the form which saw him excel as part of Bernhard Langer’s Ryder Cup Team in Detroit before he finished third in last week’s WGC – American Express Championship at Mount Juliet Conrad in Ireland.
“Obviously I am confident at the moment,” he said. “Last week was a big one for me and I am always comfortable with the format this week. It is very hard to win out here but if I keep playing well then the opportunities will continue to come my way and hopefully I will be able to take one when the time comes.”
Completing the quartet of 65s was South African James Kingston who was the only one of the leading five players to post a bogey on his card, that coming at the long sixth hole at Carnoustie where he three putted, but he was also the only one of the five to card an eagle, that coming at the par five 12th where he fired an eight iron to ten feet.
“Two years ago I finished my third round here just trying to make the cut,” he said. “It is a demanding course especially if you have demanding conditions but it was really benign today. The course played extremely well and the greens rolled beautifully. It was great to post a round like that.”
Further down the leaderboard, the two main drawcards in the event, World Number One Vijay Singh and World Number Two Ernie Els finished their rounds at Kingsbarns together in a share of 11th place overall on four under par 68 alongside five other players including seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the team event, which is being run concurrently, was led jointly by McDowell and his amateur partner Noreen McManus, wife of JP McManus, and former Scottish football international Kenny Dalglish alongside South African Richard Sterne, who both ended their first rounds on 11 under par 61.