Thursday, 05 October 2006

Paul Casey’s penchant for taking his putter out of the equation returned to inflict further damage to his rivals as he led after the opening day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The Englishman carded a nine under par 63 at Kingsbarns to lead by a shot from Johan Edfors and Bradley Dredge, who is now the proud holder of the record for the extended Old Course at St Andrews.

Two weeks ago, Casey commanded the spotlight when he holed in one to win his foursomes match with David Howell against David Toms and Stewart Cink in The Ryder Cup at The K Club.

This time, Casey eagled the 337 yard sixth hole at Kingsbarns on his way to climbing to the top of the leaderboard and taking another impressive stride towards consolidating his position at the top of The European Tour Order of Merit.

Casey finished the day 11 strokes clear of his closest rival in that particular race, David Howell, who had led the Order of Merit from day one until Casey’s superb victory in the HSBC World Match Play Championship three weeks ago.

“It’s been nice to have a couple of hole-outs over the last couple of weeks to help tidy up the scorecard” admitted the 29 year old, who has struck a rich vein of form of late. However, Casey remained typically focussed on his immediate challenges of playing on three different courses in three days rather than let his mind wander to thoughts of claiming the Order of Merit crown.

He said: “I am not going to think about it. I saw ‘Howler’ in the locker room and we chatted, but I can’t control what other guys do. I have David, Padraig (Harrington) and Robert (Karlsson) behind me and very much in the shake up. Padraig asked me this morning if I was playing in Majorca before Valderrama but I am not going to change my schedule. I am tired and need a break. He is thinking hard (about what he needs to do) and it’s the accountant in him coming out!”

Casey added: “I would dearly love to win it. It would be a wonderful honour. I have achieved so many of my goals this year I feel very satisfied, but if I was to win it, it would be a great year. If not, I have still had a wonderful year.”

Edfors also found rich pickings at Kingsbarns, accumulating an eagle and seven birdies in his round of 64. Now the young Swede has his sights fixed on a double success in Scotland, having won The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on his last visit in July.

As a youngster playing of a handicap of three, Edfors played the Old Course during a family holiday in the late eighties. Some years on, he is seeking the professional prize on Sunday to add to the three European Tour titles he has garnered already this season.

He observed: “It’s just fun to be at such a great location, where there is so much tradition. I love walking around St Andrews. It’s wonderful and motivates me a bit extra, I guess.”

Dredge trimmed a stroke off the previous record of 65 for the extended Old Course set by Colin Montgomerie and David Frost last year. Montgomerie’s defence of the title began with a one over par 73 at Kingsbarns, while Welshman Dredge enjoyed himself immensely by setting the new low mark of 64 at the Home of Golf.

It was a dramatic round of golf by Dredge who, starting at the tenth, collected seven birdies in his first nine holes and suffered the indignity of going out of bounds at the famous Road Hole 17th, eventually holing a long putt for a double bogey six.

“To be the current record holder is quite nice” said Dredge, adding: “But you never know, if the weather stays good then it might not stay at 64 by the end of the week.”

England’s Gary Evans, playing in his penultimate event before retiring to embark on some new golf-related projects, shot a seven under par 65 on the Old Course, but insisted that nothing would persuade him to change his mind – not even the title on Sunday afternoon.

Also on seven under par 65 is Vijay Singh of Fiji, who carded his score at Kingsbarns, while Anders Hansen of Denmark fired the best score of the day at Carnoustie, a six under par 65.

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