Shane Lowry insisted he was putting thoughts of Open Championship glory aside as he got his bid for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open off to a scorching start with a super 66 at Castle Stuart.
On a day when a fast-finishing Damien McGrane came back from two over after five to shoot an impressive 67, Lowry’s short game was as hot as the weather as he survived a late scare when he hit a woman on the head to finish the day just two shots behind leader John Parry on six under.
Lowry’s tee shot at his penultimate hole was heading miles right when it struck the lady on the head but bounced down the slope towards the green, allowing him to make par.
“Good day for me today,” Lowry tweeted. “Unfortunately, hit a woman on the 8th which wasn’t nice but have since heard she’s doing fine.”
While he’s fancied by many to make an impact in The Open at Muirfield, the Clara star is putting Major thoughts aside to make sure he’s focussed on this week alone.
“A lot of people get bogged down in majors and I know they are huge, but at the end of the day they are another golf tournament,” Lowry said after making seven birdies. “I’d love to win this week.
“Obviously I’d love to win The Open but I will take this week first and see what happens.”
Lowry might have been playing down thoughts of The Open but the 2009 Irish Open champion at Baltray could not help but reveal his delight at being back on links terrain.
“Yeah, I love it,” he said. “I love putting on links greens, I love hitting off links turf. I love being back here and I am looking forward to next week as well. This is very generous off the tee so I think that’s why you are seeing low scores.
“If it was a bit tighter off the tee, it would be very tough because it is not very generous into the greens and your iron play has to be decent. It’s up there. I love playing this golf course and that’s why I come back every year. I know Muirfield is quite tight off the tee and this isn’t, but it’s links golf at the end of day.”
With just one bogey on his card, he added: “I am quite pleased. I don’t feel like I played that well but I got it around nicely. I birdied the easy holes and while there were some sloppy shots in there, my short game was on fire today again so I am happy enough.
“I have shot some good scores here in the past and opened with a 66 here last year and shot 65 here before. I really like the golf course and conditions were perfect. Par is about three under today so if you didn’t break 70 at least you would be disappointed.
“Six under is a good score and I am looking forward to the rest of the week.”
By Lowry’s reckoning, not all of the 10-strong Irish contingent could be happy with their scores as “just” six of them broke 70.
With Parry (64) a shot clear of Simon Khan (65), Lowry was in a seven way tie for third with the likes of Phil Mickelson with McGrane tied for 10th with European Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley, whose five under 67 was his lowest round on tour for more than a year.
Darren Clarke, Simon Thornton and Gareth Maybin all shot three under 69s to sit just inside the cut line but Padraig Harrington hit just five fairways in a two under 70 alongside Mickelson (66) and Stephen Gallacher (68) and spent mot of his day trying to undo the damage of a double bogey seven at the 12th, his third hole, where the left hander made a three.
David Higgins (71), Michael Hoey (74) and Peter Lawrie (77) completed the Irish scoring on a day of low numbers in Inverness, where Lowry and McGrane were happy men heading for dinner but hardly doing cartwheels.
Describing the course as playing like a par 69m Lowry said: “Every par five is playing easy and there are two driveable par-fours where you should be picking up shots, so if yoiu just played a few hard holes like seve, 15 and 17 well, you will be doing alright. If you make a bogey out there you don’t have to push the panic button because you know you are going to make birdies.”
McGrane almost sounded happier than Lowry as he came back from three bogeys and a birdie in his first five holes to play his last 13 holes in seven under.
“I am delighted I got off to a good start,” said McGrane, who enjoys the tactical challenge at Castle Stuart. “The weather was on our side today and there were plenty of opportunities but you need to think out there and you need to be clever.
“After a slow start I polished off plenty of birdies and just picked them off one by one. It’s nice to shoot five under par, it gets me up and running. I holed a few nice putts to go from plus two to five under and I’m happy with that.”
As for Mickelson, who lost out to Justin Rose in the US Open last month, the left-hander was pleased with his 66 featuring six birdies and an eagle at the 12th hole.
“It was a good start,” said Mickelson, who missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic last week on his first appearance since finishing runner-up in the US Open.
“We had perfect conditions for the first 14 or 15 holes, and there are opportunities on this course to make birdies and eagles. It’s an above average round, but there were opportunities to pick up three or four shots that I let go, so I have to get a little sharper.
“There was a good chance to go really low, but I’m pleased to get off to a good start because I’ve got off to poor starts the last two years here, and been struggling to get into contention.”
Meanwhile on the Challenge Tour, Gareth Shaw teed it up in his eighth tournament on the trot and opened with a one under 70 in the Swiss Challenge in Lucerne.
After finish tied fifth in the Irish Open and 13th in the Open de France to earn more than €100,000 in two weeks, the Galgorm Castle touring professional is chasing a €25,600 top prize in Switzerland.
“It certainly keeps the bank manager happy, he’s probably wondering what’s happened the last fortnight compared to my earnings the last few years,” Shaw told the Belfast Telegraph on the eve of the event.
“It’s been a great couple of weeks and it all came out of nowhere really. I had planned to take those two weeks off. If only every two week holiday brought me over €100,000.
“The prize money is massive help. It means I can concentrate on my golf and invest in a few things like a regular caddy for the rest of the year or bring my coach Johnny Foster out to a tournament if I need to.
“It’s great to take advantage of these opportunities and see that I can perform under such intense pressure and last week was a top quality course.”
Shaw is six shots behind leaders Ben Parker, Stuart Manley and Julien Guerrier in joint 45th with Birr’s Stephen Grant tied 113th after a three over 74.
Scottish Open after Round One:
64 J Parry (Eng) ,
65 S Khan (Eng) ,
66 T Jaidee (Tha) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , J Morrison (Eng) , S Lowry (Irl) , M Ilonen (Fin) , P Mickelson (USA) , C Doak (Sco) ,
67 M Delpodio (Ita) , R Sterne (RSA) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , T Olesen (Den) , D McGrane (Irl) , R Derksen (Ned) , G Lockerbie (Eng) , P Uihlein (USA) , P McGinley (Irl) , J Singh (Ind) , L Gagli (Ita) , M Siem (Ger) , K Horne (RSA) ,
68 S Little (Eng) , T Levet (Fra) , S Gallacher (Sco) , C Wood (Eng) , P Waring (Eng) , D Howell (Eng) , D Willett (Eng) , J Van Zyl (RSA) , R Fisher (Eng) , E Goya (Arg) , C Lee (Sco) , A Quiros (Esp) , C Lloyd (Eng) , G Bourdy (Fra) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , M Nixon (Eng) , J Hansen (Den) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , M Laird (Sco) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , S Webster (Eng) , L Jensen (Den) ,
69 A Levy (Fra) , E Pepperell (Eng) , A Kaleka (Fra) , M Baldwin (Eng) , M Southgate (Eng) , S Benson (Eng) , D Horsey (Eng) , R Ramsay (Sco) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , P Whiteford (Sco) , D Lynn (Eng) , S Henry (Sco) , G Maybin (Nir) , J Edfors (Swe) , F Molinari (Ita) , G Mulroy (RSA) , R Wattel (Fra) , D Clarke (Nir) , S Thornton (Irl) , P Lawrie (Sco) , M Manassero (Ita) , M Fraser (Aus) , G Hutcheon (Sco) ,
70 B Koepka (USA) , E De La Riva (Esp) , R Wallis (Eng) , B Åkesson (Swe) , D Drysdale (Sco) , F Aguilar (Chi) , G Havret (Fra) , P Casey (Eng) , T Pieters (Bel) , R Gonzalez (Arg) , S Jamieson (Sco) , R Green (Aus) , H Otto (RSA) , J Lara (Esp) , H Stenson (Swe) , N Fasth (Swe) , S Dyson (Eng) , R Santos (Por) , C Cévaër (Fra) , A Cañizares (Esp) , T Fleetwood (Eng) , D Brooks (Eng) , C Paisley (Eng) , M Madsen (Den) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , M Carlsson (Swe) , P Harrington (Irl) , S Chowrasia (Ind) , K Kang (Kor) , D Fichardt (RSA) ,
71 J Kruger (RSA) , A Forsyth (Sco) , M Warren (Sco) , R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) , B Grace (RSA) , M Foster (Eng) , R Coles (Eng) , L Slattery (Eng) , I Garrido (Esp) , D Higgins (Irl) , A Tadini (Ita) , E Grillo (Arg) , M Wiegele (Aut) , G Orr (Sco) , R McEvoy (Eng) , R Bland (Eng) , M Kieffer (Ger) , T Lewis (Eng) , J Lagergren (Swe) , S Wakefield (Eng) ,
72 E Els (RSA) , S Lyle (Sco) , M Thompson (USA) , M Lundberg (Swe) , E Kofstad (Nor) , T Björn (Den) , R Finch (Eng) , M Tullo (Chi) , R Rock (Eng) , S Arnold (Aus) , J Campillo (Esp) ,
73 O Fisher (Eng) , F Zanotti (Par) , G Storm (Eng) , C Macaulay (Sco) , M Lafeber (Ned) , T Aiken (RSA) , M Jiménez (Esp) , F Andersson Hed (Swe) ,
74 W Liang (Chn) , K Broberg (Swe) , S Hansen (Den) , O Floren (Swe) , J Sjöholm (Swe) , J Olazábal (Esp) , M Hoey (Nir) ,
75 P Price (Wal) , A Noren (Swe) , J Gonnet (Fra) , A Sullivan (Eng) ,
76 A Snobeck (Fra) , J Byrne (Sco) , S Henderson (Sco) ,
77 A Dodt (Aus) , A Hartø (Den) , G Murray (Sco) , P Lawrie (Irl) ,
78 J Walters (RSA) ,
79 M Lampert (Ger)
Swiss Challenge, Lucerne
64 B Parker (Eng) , J Guerrier (Fra) , S Manley (Wal) ,
65 J Elson (Eng) , A Pavan (Ita) ,
66 M Rominger (Sui) , D Griffiths (Eng) , M Trappel (Aut) , A Bernadet (Fra) , A Gee (Eng) ,
67 C Aguilar (Esp) , G Molteni (Ita) , N Quintarelli (Ita) , S Kim (Kor) , T Nørret (Den) , A Ahokas (Fin) ,
68 R Kellett (Sco) , D Nouailhac (Fra) , B Hebert (Fra) , J Huldahl (Den) , D Wuensche (Ger) , R Saxton (Ned) , F De Vries (Ned) , M Crespi (Ita) , S Tiley (Eng) , C Hanson (Eng) ,
69 J Lando Casanova (Fra) , T Murray (Eng) , N Floren (Swe) , A Johnston (Eng) , J Doherty (Sco) , F Bergamaschi (Ita) , W Booth (Sco) , N Ravano (Ita) , V Riu (Fra) , P Edberg (Swe) , A Velasco (Esp) , J Carlsson (Swe) , J Lima (Por) , R Steiner (Aut) , C Brazillier (Fra) , D Huizing (Ned) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , L Bjerregaard (Den) ,
70 D Ulrich (Sui) , D Vancsik (Arg) , G Snow (Ken) , G Shaw (Nir) , P Relecom (Bel) , J Glennemo (Swe) , B Paolini (USA) , J McLeary (Sco) , P Oriol (Esp) , R Dinwiddie (Eng) , G Cambis (Fra) , M Sell (Eng) , R Russell (Sco) , C Blaesi (Sui) , R Enoch (Wal) , N D’Incau (Sui) ,
71 A Maestroni (Ita) , E Espana (Fra) , P Gustafsson (Swe) , S Garcia Rodriguez (Esp) , D Stewart (Sco) , J Lerchedahl (Den) , E Johansen (Nor) , F Laporta (Ita) , X Ruiz Fonhof (Ned) , N Elvira (Esp) , M Laskey (Wal) , A Perrino (Ita) , C Kim (USA) , M Ford (Eng) , F Svanberg (Sui) , F Praegant (Aut) , T Pulkkanen (Fin) , J Clément (Sui) ,
72 G Boyd (Eng) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , O Henningsson (Swe) , J Maurer (Aut) , S O’Hara (Sco) , S Walker (Eng) , L Weber (Fra) , R Kakko (Fin) , D Im (USA) , Å Nilsson (Swe) , R De Sousa (Sui) , T Remkes (Ned) , J Frazer (Wal) , J Johnson (Eng) , C Ford (Eng) , D Geminiani (Ita) , J Gibb (Eng) , O Wilson (Eng) , T Fournier (Fra) , S Piaget (Mon) ,
73 A Engell (Nor) , J Garcia Pinto (Esp) , D Palm (Swe) , A Rota (Ita) , S Whiffin (Eng) , D Frittelli (RSA) , J Pastor Lopez (Esp) , Z Scotland (Eng) , K Cobb (USA) , D Salisbury (Eng) , H Bacher (Aut) , J Howarth (Eng) , B Hemstock (Eng) , N Thommen (am) (Sui) ,
74 J Mommo (Fin) , J Timmis (Eng) , M Kramer (Ger) , L Goddard (Eng) , D Perrier (Fra) , B An (Kor) , C Russo (Fra) , P Archer (Eng) , A Bossert (Sui) , R Wiederkehr (Sui) , M Nichols (Eng) , S Grant (Irl) , A Otaegui (Esp) , S Hutsby (Eng) ,
75 D Gaunt (Aus) , J Senior (Eng) , M Novy (Cze) , S Surry (Eng) , A Domingo (Esp) , N Bertasio (Ita) , J Ruth (Eng) , L Tintera (Cze) ,
76 J Nodér (Sui) , S Davis (Eng) , S Hansen (Nor) , T Haylock (Eng) , C Del Moral (Esp) ,
77 I Korvenmaa (Fin) , F Colombo (Ita) , B Etchart (Esp) , G Houston (Wal) , J Barnes (Eng) ,
78 A Hortal (Esp) , N Meitinger (Ger) , J Girrbach (am) (Sui) ,
79 P Gal (Cze) , J Schmid (Sui) , J Jeong (Kor) ,
80 F Mruzek (Cze) , L Canter (Eng) ,
81 A Marshall (Eng) , M Harradine (am) (Sui) ,
83 A Rajmont (am) (Cze) ,
84 Y Kafelnikov (Rus)