If there was something of a French invasion force on the eastern coastline of Scotland, with Romain Langasque’s stunning course record-equalling 61 on the Old Course at St Andrews propelling him into the lead after a first round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, there were also strong opening efforts from the quartet of Irish players in the €5.25 million tournament.
Just across the bay at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy — despite a closing bogey — signed for a four-under-par 68, while, at the same links, Pádraig Harrington opened with a 69 and Shane Lowry a 70. Jonny Caldwell, meanwhile, showed a welcome return to form in carding a 68 at Kingsbarns.
In what was a true case of the calm before the storm, the competitors at all three courses used for this multi-course pro-am format enjoyed pet conditions and made the most of it with a string of low scores.
However, with the threat of a storm hitting the region, Friday’s second round has been reworked to feature a shotgun start in an effort to get play completed before the forecast bad weather.
For McIlroy, who started at the 10th and was five-under through 11 holes, there was a tinge of disappointment that he failed to keep his forward momentum: after an opening foray that produced birdies on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 16th holes and another on the second, the world number two dropped a shot on the third and, after birdieing the sixth, finished with a bogey on the ninth after driving his ball down the tight line where his ball finished up against an out of bounds marker and he had to take a penalty drop and then play his approach through trees for what turned out to be one of those good bogeys.
“I felt like I felt a few out there,” said McIlroy, aiming to consolidate his position at the head of the DP World Tour order of merit, adding: “I got off to a great start and then the last nine holes was a bit scrappy. It was nice to see the ball rolling and I (holed) a couple of nice ones, a couple of decent birdies. Overall, it was decent. I can build on it.”
He added: “It’s very benign in these conditions. There’s not much rough and I was just saying how short the golf course played in this north wind. I was hitting 7-iron into a couple of the Par 5s, you’re not going to get Carnoustie any easier.
Lowry, playing for the first time since lifting the BMW PGA Championship, started his round with a bogey but recovered well and — in a round of four birdies and two bogeys — also left shots out on the course, birdieing just one of three Par 5s.
At the end of the opening round, it was a French one-two-three. Langasque led the way with his brilliant 61 — coming home in 28, covering the last five holes in six-under — on the Old Course to hold a one-stroke lead over compatriot Frederic Lacroix, who shot a 62 at Kingsbarns, with Antoine Rozner and Denmark’s Niklas Norgaard Moller signing for 63s.
“I didn’t feel that I shot a number today. I holed a few long putts. The game was great but I didn’t feel I shot 11-under. I never thought I would have the course record in St Andrews, and I think now my name is going to be on this board. I think it’s something I will remember for rest of my life. I’m really happy about this. But it’s only the first round, so I’m also going to stay really focused for the next few days,” said Langasque.
Lacroix remarked: “We had it before [a French winner] and Victor [Perez] showed us it’s possible. If we can follow in his footsteps, I’ll try to do that. It’s always nice to go low. I had a few longer putts that dropped and that makes it 10-under, I didn’t really realise until I came to 18.”
In the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi on the PGA Tour, Séamus Power, playing for the first time in five weeks, opened with a 71 to trail early clubhouse leaders Andrew Putnam and Brendon Matthews by five strokes.
On the Challenge Tour, Jens Fahbring claimed a two-stroke lead after opening with a 65 in the Hopps Open de Provence where Ruadhri McGee, with an opening 72 for tied-45th, was the best of the Irish contingent.