HEARTS fan David Drysdale survived the toughest Scottish Open test so far at Castle Stuart by netting a par-matching effort in gusty conditions on the outskirts of Inverness.
The former Dunbar assistant carded a 72 in the opening round of the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event to sit just outside the top 20 alongside Edinburgh-based Richie Ramsay.
“That was pretty tough,” admitted Drysdale after a round in which he was blemish-free for 16 holes before suffering a couple of late hiccups. “It wasn’t that windy when we teed off at 7.45am but it picked up all the way round.
“In fact, I would probably say it was a little borderline out there and that’s with the greens not being cut either yesterday or today.
“Due to wind being forecast for this week, they’ve kept the surfaces slow and hairy yet the ball was still oscillating a tiny bit at times. If they were normal tournament pace, they would definitely be moving, especially on exposed greens like the 7th, 13th and 16th.”
Drysdale, who is making his 13th Scottish Open appearance this week, carded a 65 in last year’s second round at Gullane as he made the cut in East Lothian.
He will almost certainly need more favourable conditions to repeat that feat in the Highlands, where US Ryder Cup player JB Holmes was among those to suffer on day one as he slumped to an 80.
“It was a 40-yard wind out there today,” added the Cockburnspath-based player. “At the ninth (his last), I hit a half-wedge from 160 yards yet at the sixth from 150 yards I hit a 6-iron as low as I could hit it and just found the front edge.”
Ramsay’s card also contained two birdies and two bogeys as he joined Drysdale in sitting as the second best among the 16-strong home contingent behind Craig Lee (71).
“I think that is the toughest round I have played here,” admitted Ramsay. “The wind was up early this morning but it got stronger as the day went on. It is really tricky. Even though there is a little bit of space off the tee it is amazing how tough it can be when you get a bit of wind out there. The wind dries out the course and it tightens everything up.
“It is a good test and I think it will be good for the guys who are playing next week (in The Open at Royal Troon) to hit some shots into a strong wind like that.”
On a day when Chilean Filipe Aguilar and Australian Scott Hend were the only players to break 70, Stirling-based Lee recovered from a disastrous start to lead the home challenge on 71.
The former Deer Park Masters champion took 5 at the first as a gust blew his second into the thick stuff. Going for the green with his approach, he then found a bush at the second and ran up a 7.
Three birdies in the next four holes, though, was the perfect way to bounce back and, overall, it was a good day’s work for Lee, especially as he is nursing a wrist injury.
“I wasn’t thinking about packing my suitcase and heading down the road,” he admitted afterwards, “but it was certainly a horrendous start.
“Having only hit one bad shot, I still had a smile on my face but, when you throw three shots away in the first two holes, you have a long day ahead of you, especially in a wind like this.”
Jack Doherty, who won the weekend qualifier at Lossiemouth to secure his place in the field, matched the opening efforts of both Drysdale and Ramsay, as did Scottish No.1 Russell Knox.
While happy enough with his day’s work, Knox blasted tournament officials for not moving the tee up at the last, leaving it playing at 607 yards into the teeth of the wind.
“It’s a terrible set up in my opinion,” he said. “They could have easily moved us up a tee. I disagree with that hole today. But I hit three good shots – a driver, 3-wood and 5-iron only to be nowhere near the hole – and three bad putts.”
Describing the conditions as “goofy golf”, the 31-year-old added: “I haven’t played in too many tougher rounds, to be honest. So I’m happy with my round.”
Despite dropping three shots in his last four holes, West Linton pro Gareth Wright gave himself a chance of making it to the weekend after opening with a 74 to sit in a share of 65th.
That effort was two better than Phil Mickelson, the 2013 winner here, managed on a day he toiled on the greens but still found enjoyable, a feeling few others in the field would surely have shared.
“It was difficult but not unfair by any means,” insisted the American. “I played well enough but struggled on the greens, where I lost three of four shots. But I am hoping it’s like this for the next three rounds as I think it is fun.”