Angel Cabrera of Argentina and England’s Stuart Little matched each other virtually shot for shot to share the lead after the first round of The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond Golf Club. Both carded halves of 32 for an opening seven under par 64 as sunshine and a calm loch created ideal conditions for low scoring.
The world’s best players responded in kind, as Cabrera and Little were followed closely by former Open Champion Paul Lawrie, England’s Lee Westwood and South African Richard Sterne on 65 while another Open winner, Tom Lehman of the USA, was among a group of six players on 66.
Cabrera, winner of the BMW Championship at Wentworth Club in May, harnessed his great power to sublime effect, picking off seven birdies with almost effortless ease in striding towards the top of the leaderboard.
“I really like the course but I can’t understand why I’ve never done very well here” said Cabrera. “It seems that my friend, Eduardo Romero, is the Argentine player who knows how to play this course. He won here a few years ago and I would love to be able to follow him.”
The highlight of Cabrera’s round was a five iron to three and a half feet at the 17th hole which set up his third birdie of the day and the Argentinian, who started at the tenth, closed out his round with two birdies to set a cracking pace.
Left hander Little, who will be 38 on August 1, has yet to make a major impact on The European Tour, but has shown signs recently of doing just that. Already, he has retained his card for 2006, and some hard work with psychologist Carl Morris has given his game a new edge.
“We’ve been together since March and I think he’s been able to put into place quite a few issues that I had in the past. So far so good. There is no question that the psychological side is the most important thing. Everyone out here has ability, but it’s a case of believing in yourself. That doesn’t come overnight.”
Lawrie has shown welcome signs of regaining his best form of late, coming close in Portugal in April, and an opening round of 65 was just what the doctor ordered in the week leading up to The Open at St Andrews.
The key to Lawrie’s success was a magnificent 227 yard ‘heavenwood’ to just four inches at the par five 13th. The simplest of eagles set him up for an inward 31 and a share of third place with Sterne and Westwood.
Lawrie, who triumphed at Carnoustie in 1999, remains the last European to win a Major Championship – something which mystifies the Aberdonian as much as anyone. He said: “I’ve been asked that question quite a bit. I don’t think there is a reason for it. It’s not lack of talent on this Tour. I think it’s just one of those periods and I don’t have an answer to it.”
Westwood, the 1998 winner, admitted that ‘lack of expectation’ had helped him get round the course and he explained; “I didn’t hit the ball particularly well in the Pro-Am and I put it down to a hectic few days beforehand. JP McManus’s Pro-Am was fairly tiring and coming off four tricky rounds at The K Club I didn’t have too many expectations.
"If things work out well this week, it would be something like 12 consecutive days of golf going into The Open Championship, which is not ideal. I just tried to relax and not take it too seriously.”
Lehman was five under par for the first ten holes but couldn’t cash in, parring his way home. However he insisted: “I love this part of the world and the golf course. Even though it’s not links golf I think it’s a great way to prepare for The Open Championship. You are competing against great players on a great course.”
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and American Phil Mickelson both shot 67s while Montgomerie, like Lehman a past champion at Loch Lomond, shot 68, and Ernie Els a 70.
All players in the second round will be able to wear a black ribbon as a mark of respect for those affected by the London terrorist attacks.