04 Sep 19
Paul O'Hara and Graham Fox set the pace in the Scottish PGA Championship on a day when players heaped praise on Downfield as the event returned to the Dundee venue after a 23-year gap.
North Lanarkshire Leisure-attached O'Hara, pipped in a play-off in the Tartan Tour's flagship event at Gleneagles in 2016, wasted no time laying down a marker as he came in with a six-under-par 67 in one of the early groups in dreich conditions in the City of Discovery.
That was quickly matched by Clydeway Golf's Fox, the 2012 winner, as the pair ended the opening day leading by two shots from afternoon starters Thomas Higson (Gleneagles Hotel) and Kris Nicol (Dunes Golf Centre).
O'Hara, who is playing in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a fortnight's time, ignited his effort by hitting a 5-iron to 12 feet for an eagle at the 11th - his second - before quicky adding birdies at the 13th and 14th.
"It was then a case of holding on a bit when the rain was heavy before I birdied four of the last six holes," he reported afterwards.
"I played here three times before in pro-ams, finishing in the two top or three each time after carding five or six-under, and I like the course.
"You've got to shape it, drive it well and hit good iron shots. It's not just a case of poking it up the middle here.
"The greens are also slick, especially if you get on the wrong side of the hole. I think they must be running 11 or 12 on the stimpmeter."
Fox, an experienced campaigner, transformed his round with a burst of birdies in a row on the back nine before salvaging a great par at the last after finding a fairway bunker off the tee.
"You had to make sure you kept it on the fairway and the greens are fantastic, so I always felt like I could make some putts," he said.
Higson, one of the rising stars on the circuit, opened with a bogey-free effort while Nicol, who qualified for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open earlier in the year, signed for an eagle and four birdies.
Bidding to repeat his 2000 triumph in the event at a venue where he holds the course record, Alastair Forsyth is handily-placed on 70, a shot ahead of a group that includes another former European Tour player, Craig Lee.
"This is a great golf course and it's also in great condition," declared Lee after being pleased how he recovered from the shock of making three 6s in his first seven holes.
In her first solo competitive outing since undergoing cancer surgery earlier in the year, Heather MacRae opened with a 75, leaving her alongside defending champion Greig Hutcheon in a share of joint-31st.
"I made a couple of silly mistakes, but played okay otherwise," she said. "This is a great venue for this tournament as you have to hit every shot in the bag."
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