Sam Locke produced some amateur dramatics on the toughest finishing hole in golf to sit as top Scot after the opening round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie.
But it was a tough day at the office for Lothians star Grant Forrest at the fast-running Angus venue as he could only manage an 80 to be left with just one player, 2011 winner Darren Clarke, behind him in the 156-strong field.
Locke, a 19-year-old from Stonehaven, won the final qualifier at The Renaissance Club a fortnight ago to earn his spot in the season’s third major and gave another good account of himself.
He signed for a one-over-par 72 after confidently knocking in a 15-foot putt at the 18th for birdie, where world No.1 Dustin Johnson ran up a 7 shortly afterwards, to round off a good day’s work in the biggest test so far in his career.
His effort was three shots better than one of his playing partners, 2013 FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker, and has given Locke a chance of making the cut when he heads back out in the first group in the second round.
“It was good,” said Locke, the 2017 Scottish Amateur champion. “I didn’t feel like I was in total control of the ball but I holed a lot of nice putts. I really enjoyed the whole experience. Obviously it’s a bit different to what I’m used to but, once I got the first tee shot away, I settled down.
“It was really cool to walk on the first tee. That’s as good as it gets. I felt like I dealt with it quite well. I maybe didn’t show it but I was a bit nervous. I hit a lot of nice putts today. If I can just get a bit tidier off the tee I should be in for a good week.”
He carded five birdies, the pick being the last one. “It was a good drive down the middle and a really nice wedge. To see the putt go in the hole was a great feeling,” added Locke, who received some useful advice about how to tackle this course from his mentor, 1999 winner Paul Lawrie, when he walked around with him in a practice round.
Lawrie, of course, beat Snedeker in the singles in the 2012 Ryder Cup. “We chatted about a few things, but Medinah wasn’t one of them,” said Locke, who had his dad Andrew, a PGA pro, on the bag. “He was brilliant to play with. He is a really nice guy.”
Playing with Tiger Woods, Scottish No. 1 Russell Knox was on course to finish the day alongside Locke until he three-putted the last from 25 feet.
The 33-year-old had earlier started bogey-bogey in front of a massive crowd before repairing that damage with an eagle-3 at the 14th.
Sandy Lyle, who hit the opening shot in what is likely to be his last appearance in the event, and Scott Jamieson, both shot 75s to leave Forrest bringing up the rear among the home contingent.
“It was just one of those days,” said the 25-year-old, beaten finalist in the 2015 Amateur Championship here. “I didn’t feel as though I played that badly.
“I didn’t get off to a great start with a couple of three-putts early on and then a couple of wrong club choices. Before you know it, you are eight or nine-over par.
“The pins were really tucked away today behind bunkers and if you left it in the wrong place, you had no chance, really.
“I’ll try and go out tomorrow and hit some good shots and hopefully hole a few more putts than I did today.”
American Kevin Kisner set the pace with a five-under 65 to sit a shot ahead of compatriot Tony Finau and South African duo Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
Another Springbok, newly-crowned Scottish Open champion Brandon Stone, is one shot further back along with American pair Ryan Moore and Branden Steele.
Woods, making his first appearance in the event since 2015, started with a birdie before quickly moving to two-under but three bogeys coming home left him having to settle for a 71.
Adopting an aggressive strategy, McIlroy only hit 27 per cent of the fairways but, helped by birdies at the 12th and 14th in a bogey-free back nine, he was happy with his day’s work.
“I definitely thought that it was going to be beneficial to be as aggressive as I possibly could be,” said the 2014 winner.
“If you play aggressive around here, you might make more bogeys than you would playing it safe, but you’re going to make more birdies as well. After the fifth hole I didn’t look like making bogey until 16 when I missed the green.
“Obviously, I got away with some tee shots, but at the same time, I think that’s what I have to do. That’s my game plan this week. I’m convinced that that’s the way that I should play it. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well today.”