‘Beware the injured golfer’ is a well used phrase but Steve Webster gave credence to its authenticity once again when he overcame persistent problems to grab the first round lead in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The 32 year old Englishman has not played for five weeks due to back trouble but put all that behind him, quite literally, in spectacular fashion at a relatively benign Carnoustie where a fine seven under par 65 gave him a one shot lead over four players, South African Hennie Otto and Scott Strange of Australia, who both posted their scores like Webster at Carnoustie, and Dane Søren Hansen and Paul Lawrie of Scotland, who carded their 66s at St Andrews.
“I have been struggling a bit with my back and it was really sore down the right side,” said Webster. “It is actually a bit sore just now but really nothing to worry about. I had five weeks of treatment with the Tour physios and people at home, so it is much better.”
Certainly there was no element of rustiness associated with Webster’s start to the round, an explosive beginning which featured birdies at each of the first three holes, knocking home putts from 20, five and 15 feet respectively.
The winner of the 2005 Telecom Italia Open was still three under par through 11 holes but produced a fine finish with four birdies in the last seven holes including a supreme effort at the last where he hit two iron from the tee, a nine iron approach over the Barry Burn to five feet and one putt.
“When the weather is as calm as it was today you have got to try and take advantage,” he said. “The greens were perfect out there and it is always best to play this course when it is calm. I am delighted with my start but there is a long way to go.
“I don’t think I have ever broken 70 in any round in this tournament so it is a bit of a breakthrough for me today. Let’s hope I can keep it going.”
South African Otto had two dropped shot but eight birdies in his excellent 66 on the Championship Course but it was nothing to the extraordinary run of ten holes Scott Strange put together from the eighth hole, the Australian only recording one par figure – at the tenth – the other nine holes featuring three bogeys and six birdies.
Things were much more sedate for the 2001 champion Lawrie at St Andrews where the Old Course failed to get the better of the 1999 Open Champion on any of the 18 holes, the only departures from par for the Scot being good ones with four birdies in five holes from the ninth and an eagle three at the 14th thrown in for good measure.
“It is obviously a very good start but it is always nice to play at the Old Course,” he said. “You always get a good feeling when you walk down the first so it was good to play well and hole a few putts. To be honest I played every hole extremely well and had chances on a few – but I’m happy with my start.”
Another man in that position was Dane Søren Hansen who continued to ride high on the wave of confidence and momentum given to him, firstly by his win in the Mercedes-Benz Championship last month and a solid performance last week for Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy.
Like Lawrie, Hansen did not shed any shots to par and also featured a memorable run of birdies on the back nine, notching four in a row from the tenth.
“I feel like I have been knocking on the door a lot recently and then all of a sudden to get over the finish line was great,” he said. “I have been waiting for it a little bit and it was a long time since I won the last time but now I feel like I am pretty much in control of what I am doing and it is fantastic playing golf that way.”
A measure of the quality of the field is illustrated by an illustrious gathering of players tied for sixth place on five under par 67, a group which includes Ernie Els, Niclas Fasth and Luke Donald while Padraig Harrington marked the return to the scene of his Open Championship triumph with a two under par 70 at Carnoustie.
“It has been nice going around the golf course and reliving a lot of the shots that made headlines during the week of the tournament,” he said.