Euan Walker did much to justify his selection for the Scotland team for next week’s Eisenhower Trophy in Ireland but Euan McIntosh did as much to justify the feeling he should be going too on the first day at the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Championship.
Walker, 23 yesterday, was one of three controversially picked for the World Team Championship ahead of Scottish matchplay champion McIntosh, the 49-year-old who has won two more events since his victory at Blairgowrie at the beginning of the month.
Yet while McIntosh continued that superb form with a two-under 68 to start on Gleneagles’ famous King’s Course, Walker went one better to share the lead with Yorkshire champion Sam Rook. McIntosh is in third with Scottish Boys’ champion Connor Wilson and Australia-based Scot Ben Ferguson, among others.
The reputation of the King’s Course as a competitive theatre for elite golf has taken a battering in recent years, but the attention paid by the owners to the great old track since the Ryder Cup four years ago has restored much of its greatness, specifically in green speeds that protected it yesterday.
Walker got “a bit of a fright” when a simple birdie putt rolled 12 feet by on the first, but he holed that one and a birdie at the blind third set him up for a solid round.
“The greens were lightning but those putts on the first three holes really settled me down,” he said. He finished with four birdies on the back nine.
Eisenhower team-mates Ryan Lumsden and Sandy Scott have opted not to play in the championship – Scott had to return to college in Texas anyway – but Walker didn’t give resting a thought ahead of his date at Carton House.
“I haven’t played competitively since the Scottish Amateur so this was a chance to get a couple of competitive rounds in before the big one next week,” he said. “It was a nice score on my birthday as well.”
McIntosh’s preparation to start his bid of the matchplay-strokeplay double wasn’t ideal, not warming up because he needed 40 minutes to find a parking space – a pressman inadvertently took the last one in the golfer’s park close to the first tee as Euan drove in – and as a result his first holes “were a little funky”.
“35 putts tells the story, and I thought we had the best conditions for the day, the wind really died down and there was a score to be had on the back nine,” he said.
“I’m going to try everything to win four in a row, but the quality this week I’ll have to play the very best I can manage,” he said. “There’s a lot of a good young players in the field, and I’ll have to putt a lot better than I did today.”
One who did capitalise on the wind at his back on the back nine was Wilson, the 17-year-old protege of Stephen Gallacher who won the Boys’ title at Moray in July.
Four-over after five and still three-over on the 12th tee, he had five birdies in the last seven holes, the highlight coming with a 35-foot putt on 17, followed by the regulation two-putt birdie at the last.
“I hit some wayward shots early on but after that settled down,” he said.
“I’ve had a really good year. Winning the Stephen Gallacher Foundation Trophy was a massive confidence boost as it showed what I was capable of, and I backed that up by winning the Scottish Boys.”
He had a practice round with the Ryder Cup star prior to the boys’ season starting at Renaissance, which has proved an inspiration; “it was good to see how he does things, especially around the greens.”
The change in date for the “Scottish Stroke” has had a marked effect on the field, especially with the Eisenhower just a week away. Walker and Ireland’s Robin Dawson, the 10th ranked player in the world who had a two-over 72, are playing but there’s a marked reduction of foreign entrants compared to when the championship in its traditional place in early June.
Qualifiers after today’s second round will progress to 36 holes on Wednesday.