Lothians star Stephen Gallacher gave himself “something to build on” after getting off to an encouraging start in the £5.5 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links.
The 42-year-old carded a flawless four-under-par 68 at the Ayrshire venue to sit just three shots off the lead, held by Finn Mikko Ilonen, at the end of day one in the Rolex Series event.
It was a pleasing effort for Gallacher as he bids to get into next week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale at the 11th hour by securing one of three spots up for grabs in this tournament.
“I’m off to a good start as it was a tough day from start to finish out there,” he said. “I didn’t drive it great, but my short game was sharp and that kept me in it.
“I’d love to play in The Open, so I know I need to play well. I saw a couple of the guys do it last week (Richie Ramsay and David Drysdale getting in through the Irish Open), which was brilliant to get more Scots in it.
“It’s been my goal for the last three weeks to get to Birkdale and now this is my only chance, so this is a good start to that.”
Gallacher, who missed this event at Castle Stuart 12 months ago as he recovered from a wrist injury, made his score with three birdies in a row from the 12th.
He sparked the telling thrust by hitting it to eight feet there, was in to six feet at the next before two-putting the long 14th. “It was tough to get it close,” he added. “The greens were firming up. Since I played in the pro-am on Tuesday, I noticed an unbelievable difference with how firm they were. I got it fast and fiery today.
“It was basically about hanging on for the five holes before making my three birdies in a row. I was struggling a bit, but I started to hit fairways and get it close.
“The greens are very sloppy anyway, and when you are putting in a cross wind of 15-20 mph it’s so hard to get it close. I’m delighted with that. It’s a great start and something to build on for the rest of the week.”
Gallacher’s opening effort was matched by Capital-based Ramsay as he took up where he’d left off when finishing with a flourish to finish tied for second in the Irish Open at Portstewart.
“It was tricky out there in the wind and the temperature also dropped a little bit towards the end,” said Ramsay, who also birdied the same three holes as Gallacher in the middle of the back nine before also picking up a shot at the last.
“I’m very happy with the way I played as I stayed patient after being level-par through eight. I then got a little run going on the back nine to give me a bit of impetus and then kept that momentum going.”
Another Edinburgh-based player, Duncan Stewart, was disappointed to finish with a 6 as he opened with a 71. “It was the worst shot I hit all day, laying up and putting it in the rubbish,” said Stewart, who is attached to Turnhouse. “Apart from that I played absolutely lovely and, if I can keep playing like that, one under par will be the worst score I shoot.”
Out in one of the final groups, West Linton’s Gareth Wright had a 74, the same as world No.4 Rory McIlroy after his hopes of getting a much-needed Open boost were hit by poor wedge play.