Alex Noren was the man to catch after round one of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland and went on to equal the course record at Carnoustie on Thursday.
The Swede got on a hot-run and fired eight birdies on his way to carding a bogey-free round of 64 and will take a one-shot lead over Englishman Ross Fisher.
Whilst Noren was flying at Carnoustie, Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick – fresh off their Ryder Cup defeat at Hazeltine – both struggled in the windy conditions.
The two-time winner, this season, started his opening round from the10th hole and then went on to birdie three of his opening five holes.
After four straight pars, Noren made the turn in 33 and then started a blistering run on the front nine. He got off to a quick start, by immediately making a birdie on the first and then holing an unlikely birdie putt on the fifth.
Now the Swede was tied for the lead at 5-under par, before picking up another shot on the long sixth hole to move into the lead on his own.
The 34-year-old then continued to play stellar golf over the last three holes, securing a par on the par-4 seventh hole before going onto to make back-to-back birdies on his closing holes. Finishing in style by making birdie on the last from 12 feet to hold the lead at 8-under par.
Noren, who has already won in Scotland this year, at the Scottish Open in Inverness, was overjoyed with his first days play. Going on to say:
“It was tough conditions but probably one of the best I’ve played, so I’m very happy right now.”
“I like Carnoustie but I’ve never shot lower than maybe 71 here.”
“I didn’t expect much but it went better than I expected. I putted great and yeah, got it going. I played pretty steady all day.”
Englishman, Ross Fisher is Noren’s nearest challenger heading into round two after producing another bogey-free fine round.
Fisher, who was playing at Kingsbarns, produced one of the lowest rounds of the day after an opening round of 65. After only making one birdie on the front nine he made the turn in 35, before tearing up the back-nine.
The 35-year-old followed up an eagle on the third hole with four birdies in six holes. Fisher held his nerve on the last green to hole a birdie putt to reduce Noren’s lead to only one.
Fishers surge to the front of the leaderboard comes as no surprise, after the Englishman has performed well in recent tournaments – finishing solo 2nd at the Porsche European Open and T22 in 100th Open de France as well as 6th at the Nordea Masters.
Over at St Andrews, the third and final course at the Dunhill Links Championship, the top performers were Callum Shinkwin and France’s Raphael Jacquelin who both carded rounds of 67.
Fellow Sweedish countryman, Joakim Lagergren finds himself in a tie for third on 6-under after making six birdies around Carnoustie, to sign for an opening round of 66.
Also in action at this years Dunhill are six players from the European Ryder Cup team. Teammates Danny Willett and Lee Westwood played together on a disappointing day for both of them – Willett carded a round of 73 whilst Westwood struggled to get anything going and signed for a round of 75.
Matthew Fitzpatrick had a real shocker around Carnoustie and ended the day with a 5-over round of 77, this being highlighted by his quadruple bogey-bogey on the 6th hole.
European team stars, Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, both shot steady rounds of 2-under to card 70s. Whilst, Martin Kaymer got off to a slow start with a 1-under round of 71.
Belgian, Pieters had this to say to Sky Sports after his opening round:
“It’s great to be back, everybody is on my side here.”
“The next two days are going to be a little easier I think. You can get away with some shots on the next two courses and yeah, you have to go lower on these next two.”
It will be interesting to see if many of the Europeans can battle back to make the cut in Scotland, and indeed if Fisher can stop Noren from running away from the rest of the field.