Chris Paisley needs to win the Scottish Open to qualify for the Open next week and yesterday he put a nightmare experience with his golf clubs behind him to make an impressive initial charge at it.
What remains a monumental task looked as if it had become mission impossible before the start when his airline lost the clubs on Paisley’s way back from his previous tournament in France.
The Close House-attached pro from Mickley Square missed Tuesday’s practice round for the current tournament. He had to stay at home that day to be re-united with his clubs when they arrived three days late.
On Wednesday, Paisley had make do with teeing off at 6.30am to squeeze in nine holes before the Pro-Am started.
But yesterday the clearly fired-up former Walker Cup player went on the rampage.
Starting at the tenth, he walked off the 16th green of the course – his seventh – one over par. The next four holes brought him birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie.
He stayed four under – and four off the lead – until a string of five pars was broken by a double bogey.
Paisley signed for a two-under 70, still a magnificent effort in the circumstances. Before the tournament, he had issued a string of angry tweets, one of them summing up his feelings about the airline.
Penrith’s Gary Lockerbie is three off the lead following a 67 with the Rockliffe Hall attached Graeme Storm one over way down the field.
Phil Mickelson yesterday hailed his opening 66 as the perfect preparation for the “punishment” which lies ahead in next week’s Open.
On the day that Graeme McDowell apologised for saying the event had lost its prestige by moving to a “one-dimensional” course which was not “strong enough” to host an event directly before a major, 117 of the 156-strong field at Castle Stuart broke par.
England’s John Parry carded a flawless eight-under-par 64 to claim a one-shot lead over compatriot Simon Khan, with Mickelson a shot further back in a tie for third.
Defending champion Jeev Milkha Singh was another stroke back after a 67, but Open champion Ernie Els could only manage a level-par 72.
“It was a good start,” said Mickelson, who missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic last week on his first appearance since a record sixth runners-up finish in the US Open last month.
“We had perfect conditions the first 14 or 15 holes and there are opportunities on this course to make birdies and eagles. It’s an above-average round but there were opportunities to pick up three or four shots that I let go so I have to get a little sharper.
“There was a good chance to go low but it’s great for me to get off to a decent start because historically I have gotten off to poor starts the last couple of years here and I’ve been fighting just to make the cut and get into contention.
“Now getting off to good start I’m not having to battle uphill. I’m able to move up the leaderboard if I play well.
“I think the best way to get ready for next week is to get into contention and to feel that nervousness and those butterflies and try to win. When I won the Masters in 2006 I won the week before in Atlanta by 13 shots and I thought that couldn’t have been a better way to get ready.
“The reason I love playing this week before next week is that it gives me an opportunity to hit all the shots I’ll play next week, all the bump and run shots, the chips around the greens, putts off the green, and yet it doesn’t beat you up and it doesn’t punish you the way we’ll get punished next week. You can only handle so much of that.”
Mickelson three-putted the 10th, his opening hole, and hit such a poor tee shot on the 11th that he exclaimed “What in the world was that?’ but a brilliant bunker shot saved his par and an eagle from 15ft on the next followed.
The world number eight carded six further birdies and one bogey and added: “The first hole was a good wake-up call for links golf. I didn’t give myself an angle to get to that pin and ended up with a bogey. I tried to get a little greedy and it came back to bite me so it taught me to be patient.”