Edoardo Molinari continued his love affair with Scotland as a brilliant round of 63 left him in a four way tie for the lead after round one of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
Fresh off his best finish in the Rolex Series at last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, the Italian carded his lowest Rolex Series round at The Renaissance Club to sit at eight under alongside countryman Nino Bertasio, Frenchman Romain Wattel and American Matt Kuchar.
Molinari won this event and the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2010 as he earned a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team and he could be playing alongside brother Francesco again at next week’s Open Championship.
The top three players in the top ten this week not already exempt will head to Royal Portrush Golf Club, and Molinari will be looking to take his chance after only narrowly missing out in County Clare.
South Africans Thomas Aiken and Erik van Rooyen, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Belgian Thomas Pieters, Finn Kalle Samooja and English pair Lee Slattery and Andy Sullivan were a shot off the lead on a congested leaderboard.
Samooja made the 17th hole-in-one of the European Tour season on the 15th before Trevor Immelman took the tally to 18 on the same hole later in the day.
Early heavy rain softened the course up and with the wind failing to appear until very late in the day, scores were very low on the East Lothian coast.
After the target had been set at seven under in the morning, there was a nine way tie for the lead at that mark in the afternoon before the leaders broke free.
Molinari birdied the tenth, 12th, 16th and 17th, adding an eagle on the par five first and birdie on the fourth to share top spot. An approach to inside six feet on the par five seventh brought a second eagle of the day and the solo lead before he failed to get up and down on the eighth.
“I’m in a good place at the minute,” he said. “It seems like every week I’m playing better. I’m building something every week and when you play golf like this, it’s quite easy but then everything can change in a very short amount of time.
“You just have to be careful and keep doing the same things and hopefully the results continue to improve.”
Wattel has carded a 63 in Scotland before at the 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship and he was the player to first break the afternoon logjam at seven under.
He had made just two cuts from 15 events coming into this week but added gains on the tenth, 12th, 16th, first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh to a bogey on the 15th, before a closing gain from six feet on the ninth set the target.
“It feels really good,” he said. “Really happy with the way I played. It hasn’t been a really good year for me so far. I changed my coach last year and it takes time to rebuild the golf swing so I’m working and trying my best.”
Bertasio was bogey free in his 63, making gains on the 11th, 12th, 13th, 16th, 18th, first, third and seventh.
Kuchar was second at this event in 2015 and a long putt on the 16th handed him a second eagle of the day and a share of the lead after birdies on the fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, tenth and 14th, bogeys on the ninth and 11th and that first eagle on the 12th.
Sullivan had got to eight under in the morning with an eagle and six birdies but dropped a shot on the eighth, while eight birdies got Aiken to that mark before he made a bogey on the same hole.
Samooja added five birdies to his ace at the 15th, while Donaldson and Pieters both went bogey free with seven birdies, and Slattery and Van Rooyen made eight gains with a single dropped shot.
Major champion Henrik Stenson, local favourite Richie Ramsay, Frenchman Romain Langasque and English trio Chris Paisley, Ian Poulter and Oliver Wilson were two shots off the lead.
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