James Ross regains his focus to shoot 68 in Aviemore

Duncan Stewart grabbed five birdies in his first round
Duncan Stewart grabbed five birdies in his first round
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James Ross overcame finding himself being distracted by the stunning scenery to make a promising start along with Duncan Stewart in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore.

The pair carded matching three-under-par 68s at Macdonald Spey Valley to sit just four off the lead, held by Finn Tapio Pulkkanen after the late reserve finished birdie-birdie.

Royal Burgess man Ross, who is playing in the event on an invitation after returning for the summer from Texas, was pleased with an opening effort that contained four birdies.

“It was solid,” said the 26-year-old. “A fanned 4-iron led to my only dropped shot at the sixth but I bounced back with a nice birdie from eight feet at the seventh.”

Ross, who is based in Houston, revealed his surroundings this week are more pleasant than what he’s used to at most events in the States.

“I was saying to Nick Holligan, my caddie, that I must be getting old as I was finding myself enjoying views out there,” he added. “I think it is a sign that I am beginning to appreciate Scotland a bit more.”

The former Scotland cap certainly appreciates the chance he is getting this week in an event worth close to £200,000. “I am thankful to (promoter and fellow Royal Burgess member) Iain Stoddart for getting me an invitation,” he admitted.

Capital-based Stewart, a winner already on the Challenge Tour this season, was also satisfied with his first-day effort, which contained five birdies. “Tee to green was as good as I’ve hit it, missing just one green in regulation,” he said. “I had an off-day with the putter but I can’t complain as it has been red-hot lately.” On being the local hero this week – he hails from Grantown-on-Spey – Stewart added: “I felt a bit pressure on the first tee because I knew there were a few people out there to watch me today.”

Braid Hills Golf Centre pro Paul McKechnie also broke par with a 69, which was matched by Robert MacIntyre, the Oban left-hander who won the Scottish Amateur at Muirfield last summer. Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest, another of the amateurs in the field, finished in red figures, too, as he signed for a 70.