World number seven Rickie Fowler made the ideal start to his bid for a second Scottish Open title with an opening round of 64 at Gullane.
Fowler had a chance to card the first 59 in European Tour history after five birdies and an eagle took him to seven under par after 12 holes of the par-70 layout.
And although a bogey on the 13th was followed by five straight pars, that was good enough to share the lead on six under par with England’s Robert Rock, Sweden’s Jens Dantorp and Spain’s Scott Fernandez.
“The front was playing easier than the back and getting off and getting under par makes it a lot easier to hold on or try to get a couple extra on the way in,” said Fowler, whose victory at Gullane in 2015 prompted the members to rename the clubhouse bar in his honour.
“I got a couple early in the back nine and it would have been nice to keep it clean or, after the bogey, maybe make a couple more birdies coming in.
“But the back nine is playing tougher with where the wind is and could have presented some trouble, but I feel like we did a good job of avoiding that.
“I love playing links golf and being able to use your imagination and hit different shots. I feel like this golf course, you go around and you hit pretty much every club in your bag. You hit driver quite a bit. It’s just fun. Especially once the wind starts to blow a bit.”
Rock carded six birdies in a bogey-free round as he looks to secure one of the three places available in next week’s Open Championship for players finishing in the top 10, who are not otherwise exempt.
“It’s the last chance and it’s always disappointing to not play the Open,” said the 41-year-old, who finished seventh at St Andrews in 2010.
“I’m going as a coach anyway [he coaches fellow Englishman Matt Wallace] so I’ll be there. But I’d like to be playing.”
It may be the only major in 2018 where a career grand slam is not on the line, but the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie is set to fill the gap in sporting drama left by the World Cup.
Rory McIlroy went to the Masters in search of the win he needs to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles, while Phil Mickelson did likewise at the US Open, only to dominate the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
When it comes to the US PGA Championship it will be the turn of Jordan Spieth to attempt to join golf’s most exclusive club, but first the American will be focused on becoming the first player in a decade to make a successful defence of the Open title.
Padraig Harrington was the last man to achieve the feat, following his play-off victory over Sergio Garcia – coincidentally at Carnoustie – in 2007 with a four-shot victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months later.
Spieth’s own victory at Birkdale came in remarkable circumstances, his three-shot 54-hole lead turning into a one-shot deficit after his fifth bogey of the day on the 13th, which involved a 20-minute ruling and playing his third shot from the practice ground.
But the 24-year-old somehow regained his composure to play the next four holes in five under par, card a remarkable closing 69 and finish 12 under par, three shots ahead of the unfortunate Matt Kuchar, who also shot 69 after a bogey on the last.
Whether Spieth is in the sort of form to retain his title remains to be seen however, the world number six finishing third in the Masters after a brilliant closing 64 but missing the cut in two of his last three starts, including the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Spieth should at least encounter similar conditions at Carnoustie, which promises to play hard and fast following the recent dry spell in Scotland. Throw in a healthy breeze and it could be “Car-nasty” part two, rekindling memories of the hardest Open in living memory in 1999.
On that occasion the combination of a severe course set-up and bad weather saw Paul Lawrie, Jean van de Velde and Craig Parry finish tied on six over par, with Lawrie going on to lift the Claret Jug in a play-off.
Van de Velde famously needed just to play the 72nd hole in six shots or less but contrived to make a triple-bogey seven which saw the Frenchman take off his shoes and socks to wade into the Barry Burn in a fruitless attempt to play out of the hazard in front of the green.
Lawrie is sadly absent due to injury but Tiger Woods will contest the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews in 2015 as he seeks to end a decade-long major championship drought, as well as five years without a win of any description.
Woods was seventh at Carnoustie in 1999 and 12th in 2007, while he also played the course in the 1995 Scottish Open as an amateur. Since returning to action following spinal fusion surgery last year, the 42-year-old has threatened to get back into the winner’s circle, bouncing back from a missed cut in the US Open with a tie for fourth in the Quicken Loans National.
And the omens may well be in his favour given that five of the past seven Open champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson – have been 39 or older, while the dry conditions could be reminiscent of Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Woods famously used his driver just once all week at Hoylake, led the field in fairways hit and won his third Open title a month after missing the cut in the US Open. The precedent exists and although it is somewhat dated, there is no doubting a Woods victory would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time.
Male, female and senior players will go head-to-head in a new tournament to be held in Jordan from April 4-6 next year.
The Jordan Mixed Masters at Ayla Golf Club, will be co-sanctioned by the European Challenge Tour, Ladies European Tour and Staysure Tour.
The field will consist of 123 players – 40 from each Tour and one leading from the men’s, ladies’ and over-50’s games – who will compete against each other in a single, mixed field.
Members from the three Tours will tee off from different yardages but will compete in the same competition.
The three-day event will see the field cut to 60 for the final day’s play, competing for the grand prize of $395,000 (Dh1.4 million), while leading players from the remaining two Tours will also receive an accolade.
Nick Tarratt, Director of the European Tour’s Dubai Office, said: “This event is fantastic news for golf in the region and the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The Middle East has become a hugely important territory to the European Tour and the Jordan Mixed Masters is further strengthens those ties.”
The concept, which recognises the importance of equality and equal opportunity, was the vision of Ayla’s ownership, who have created a premier golf and leisure development close to the Red Sea City of Aqaba and on Jordan’s southern shores.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “The Jordan Mixed Masters, presented by Ayla is a fantastic development for the Staysure Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Ladies European Tour.
“This unique event goes a step further, bringing together the stars of three Tours for a truly innovative tournament. There seems to be an appetite in golf for mixed events right now, and this is another opportunity to deliver another entertaining yet credible format.”
The announcement of the event builds on the success of the European Tour’s innovative GolfSixes tournament in May, a 16-team, six-hole event, which included some of Europe’s top female stars and a mixed pairing of Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn and his Solheim Cup counterpart Catriona Matthew.
“The popularity of recent collaborative events such as the GolfSixes have demonstrated that there is a huge public appetite to see men and women playing alongside each other,” said Mark Lichtenhein, chairman of the Ladies European Tour.
“This unique tournament will be the first of its kind, where men and women will compete individually, for the same trophy. The event will give our players a tremendous opportunity to showcase their talents in a level playing field for both genders.”