Grant Forrest fires flawless 68 in Turkey

Grant Forrest opened with a flawless effort in the Turkish Airlines Challenge. Picture: SNS
Grant Forrest opened with a flawless effort in the Turkish Airlines Challenge. Picture: SNS
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Amateur ace Grant Forrest fared best among a ten-strong Scottish contingent in the opening round of the Turkish Airlines Open at Gloria Golf Club in Belek.

As American John Hahn led a spate of low scoring in benign conditions with a nine-under-par 63, Forrest is sitting joint-13th after a flawless 68.

Jack Doherty (69) and Duncan Stewart (70) also signed for sub-par morning scores before another amateur, Ewen Ferguson, matched the latter in the afternoon, but the pick of the efforts among the Scots definitely belonged to Forrest.

Along with Ferguson, the 22-year-old is playing in the first of two Challenge Tour events back-to-back and he looked very much at home alongside the pros.

“That will do nicely,” said the Craigielaw player of his opening salvo, which contained birdies at the 11th, 18th, fourth and sixth holes after he’d started at the 10th.

“I felt really good off the tee and that made it easier for myself out there. I had a few more chances to the ones I took, burning the edge of the hole with them.

“It is always nice to be bogey-free but it is even better under the circumstances. It has also been a while given that the last few events I’ve played have been in tough weather conditions.”

New for this season, amateurs playing in Challenge Tour events can secure points towards a ranking for the following year.

It means that both Forrest and Ferguson, the first Scottish amateurs to get starts on the second-tier circuit this year, have opportunities to lay some building blocks for when they join the paid ranks.

“I felt nervous on the first tee but I wouldn’t say it was any different than normal,” added Forrest. “And I am coming into this week with nothing to lose so that’s a good position to be in.”

The Walker Cup player picked out his gain at the fourth, a 555-yard par-5, as the best of his birdies.

“That was a bonus as I holed a putt from 30 feet after cutting a 3-wood a bit too much with my second then having to play for the centre of the green,” he said.

Looking at Hahn’s name sitting at the top of the leaderboard, Forrest continued: “The scoring is low and it’s almost like level-par will see you fall away, so I will be aiming to keep pushing on tomorrow.”

Doherty transformed his day by picking up four shots in his final five holes, having also started on the back nine.

“That was nice,” admitted the recently-turned 34-year-old. “I also played nice at the start but just didn’t hole any putts. Efforts from eight feet, 20 feet, 10 feet and 25 feet in the final throes of his round made amends.

Doherty admitted he’s been inspired by Stewart’s breakthrough win on the circuit in Madrid last weekend. “Watching him do it definitely makes you think, ‘come on, let’s get involved’,” he said.

Stewart was also happy with his start, having managed to avoid the sort of hangover that often follows a victory.

“I played lovely,” said the 31-year-old after signing for four birdies, with his sole blemish being a bogey 6 at the 16th - his seventh.

“Tee to green was very good and my iron play is starting to feel that it is back to where it used to be.”

Ferguson, the 2013 British Boys’ champion from Bearsden, made his score by covering the back nine in two-under.

“After being level for the front nine, which has three par-5s, I was saying ‘oh no’ or words to those effect at the turn,” said the 19-year-old, smiling.

“I then managed to cover a tough stretch of holes from 10 through to 14 in one-under before making a nice birdie-2 at the 17th.”

Also out in the afternoon, when played was halted for 50 minutes due to a thunderstorm, Paul Shields and Bradley Neil carded matching 72s.

“I played well on my front nine, giving myself chance after chance, before the wind picked up and made the back nine quite tough,” said Shields, a rookie on the second-tier circuit this season.

Neil, who turned pro after playing in both The Masters and US Open last season on the back of his 2014 Amateur Championship win, was out in 32, three-under.

The Blairgowrie player then ran up two double-bogeys in three holes but was rightly proud of himself after covering his last six holes in one-under.

“There were a lot of positives out there,” said Neil, who’d woken up feeling unwell and took some medication before heading out.

Out in one of the final groups, Ross Kellett signed for a 73, admitting afterwards: “I need to putt better than that.”

David Law will have a different putter in his bag for the second round after discovering the one he’s used for five years has been bent since last week’s event in Spain.

“As soon as I picked it up earlier in the week I thought it had been damaged and that is definitely the case,” said the Aberdonian after signing for a 74. “It has loads of loft and is toed in.

“I’ve used it for five years and will get it sorted when I get home but Duncan Stewart has a spare one that I can borrow.”

Jack McDonald, making his Challenge Tour debut as a pro, also had to settle for two-over-par opening effort.

The 23-year-old Ayrshireman bagged an early birdie at 11th - his second - only to run up a 6 two holes later after finding water then dropping another shot at the next.

“I gave myself plenty of chances out there but made a couple of silly mistakes that cost me,” admitted McDonald.

Peter Whiteford, the last of the ten Scots, blamed a pull in his game for the bulk of the damage in his disappointing 75.

Hahn, a 27-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, carded an eagle and seven birdies as he set a red-hot pace on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Describing what has been a difficult start to 2016, Hahn spoke of his delight after carding his first sub-70 round of the European Challenge Tour season.

“I have been struggling this year, there’s no secret there,” said Hahn as he reflected on his first sub-70 round of the season. “I think I lost focus and lost track of what I was good at and what got me to where I was as a player.”

The excellent effort him a three-shot lead over Swede Sebastian Soderberg, Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, French duo Joel Stalter and Clement Sordet and English pair Darren Wright and Aaron Rai.

Soderberg, the Road to Oman leader, was the odd man out as his 66 was carved out in the tougher afternoon conditions.