Elliot Saltman takes Route 66 in the Highlands

Saltman signed for six birdies in the second-tier event (Getty)
Saltman signed for six birdies in the second-tier event (Getty)
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Elliot Saltman took ‘Route 66’ to put his name on the leaderboard in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge and reckons the promising start in Aviemore can ignite his season.

On his return to the Challenge Tour, the Archerfield ace has made four out of five cuts this year only for the odd bad hole to take the shine off things.

His best finish was tied for 13th in Madrid at the end of April, but the 33-year-old believes he’s playing well enough to record a maiden victory on the second-tier circuit.

“My swing is probably better than it’s ever been since I started working with Alan McCloskey and I’ve felt comfortable in every event I’ve played in,” said Saltman after opening with a five-under-par effort at Macdonald Spey Valley.

“I really do feel that I’ve been playing well enough to get a win, but I’ve just not been putting the finishing touches to performances.”

Saltman, back on the Challenge Tour after topping the PGA EuroPro Tour money-list last season, signed for six birdies in the shadow of the Cairngorms. His only dropped shot of the day came at his last hole – the tenth – but he admitted: “Apart from that, it was a great day and I enjoyed myself out there.

“Over the past few weeks I’ve felt I was going through the motions a bit as I shot around level-par and made cuts. I’m a competitor so it’s nice when you see your name up on leaderboards as that really gets you going.”

Saltman has been working with McCloskey, who also coaches both Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren, since last autumn. “The best thing about what Allan has done with me is that I don’t feel he has actually changed anything,” admitted the 6ft 3in Prestonpans-based player.

“Some coaches can tear your swing apart when you first start working with them, but that’s not happened with Allan.

“Everything was already there, but not in the right order. He’s just got everything organised a bit better.”

Saltman, who played at the Open at Turnberry in 2009 then Royal Lytham three years later, is hoping to make a third Open appearance at St Andrews next month.

“I’m playing in the final qualifying at Glasgow Gailes next Tuesday,” he said. “I’ve then got the Scottish Open qualifier after that at North Berwick.

“It would be great to have Gullane then St Andrews coming up, but we’ll see what happens. If I don’t get into The Open, the Challenge Tour event that week is in La Gomera, where I finished second in the past.”

Englishman Gary Boyd set the pace in the Highlands, a seven-under-par 64 giving him a one-shot lead over Dutchman Maarten Lafeber, Portugal’s Jose-Filipe Lima and Prom Meesawat from Thailand.

Bonnyrigg-based Jamie McLeary, the 2009 winner, opened with a three-under 68, as did North Berwick man Neil Henderson. Raymond Russell was next best among the Lothians contingent with a 70 – one less than the heavily Royal Burgess logo-ed James Ross.

“I hit the ball well but had a frustrating day on the greens, taking two three-putts from nowhere,” admitted Ross after signing for his level-par effort.

This is his Challenge Tour debut, having cut his teeth in the pro ranks playing on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour over the past few months.

“I knew that the Latinoamerica circuit had a summer break, so I thought it would be good to come back home for a bit,” added the former Scottish internationalist.

“I’m fortunate to have got a spot here through Iain Stoddart (the event’s promoter) having a Royal Burgess connection.”

Ross now has a full card for the PGA Latinoamerica Tour following a mid-season rankings shuffle, meaning he has a decent schedule when that resumes.

“The one thing I need to do over the summer is learn Spanish,” he declared. “It is tough when I don’t have a clue what my caddie is saying and vice versa.”

Given he dropped five shots in three holes at the start of the back nine, Grant Forrest’s 72 was a decent effort. “I hit a lot of nice shots,” said the Craigielaw star, who has secured a spot in the US Amateur after climbing more than 60 places to 45th in the world rankings on the back of reaching the final of the British equivalent at Carnoustie last week.