Lee Westwood makes most of weather 'break' to lead Scottish Open
Former winner cards course-record nine-under 62 at The Renaissance Club
What is it with Mother Nature when it comes to the Scottish Open and The Renaissance Club? Last year's first visit to the East Lothian venue coincided with some of the most benign conditions witnessed since the Tom Doak-designed course opened in 2008 and it's happened again.
After the morning starters in the opening round of the Aberdeen Standard Investments-backed event were given a dose of what it can be like in cold, wet and windy conditions - Australia's Min Woo Lee fared best in that part of the day with a five-under-par 66 - the flags fell limp in the afternoon and, as a consequence, the scores tumbled.
Lee Westwood, who frequently played and practised here when he lived in Edinburgh for a spell, was among those to take full advantage of the later starters facing a far easier test.
Helped by two eagles in the first seven holes - it was almost an albatross at the third - the Englishman carded a brilliant nine-under-par 62, which is a course record for the new routing being used this week, to lead by one from Swede Alexander Bjork and Dutchman Joost Luiten, with home man Scott Jamieson sitting fourth on 64.
Westwood's last two European Tour wins have both come in Rolex Series events, having ended a four-and-a-half year drought when landing the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa towards the end of 2018 before also coming out on top in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January.
Albeit eight months apart, the 47-year-old is now bidding to make it back-to-back wins in the circuit's showpiece events, which carry $7 million prize funds and a heap of Race to Dubai points.
"I opened the curtains this morning and thought, ooh, that looks rough," said Westwood of his good fortune with the weather. "But that was the forecast – chilly and damp and then clearing up as the day went on.
"You have to make the most of it when you get a break like that. You’ve got to be patient. If you’re not three or four under early, you can start chasing and getting aggressive. You have to break it down and play the course on its merits.
"That’s how I’ve been playing for a few weeks, starting on the tee, trying to hit in the right place on the fairway. That’s what you have to do at the US Open – well, used to have to do (smiling). Playing the US Open (he tied for 13th at Winged Foot behind Bryson DeChambeau) taught me a lot. My game has been disciplined the last few weeks."
With his son Sam on the bag, the 1998 winner at Loch Lomond ignited his scintillating effort by hitting a 3-wood from 293 yards to three feet at the third before knocking in a 25-footer for his second eagle, which was set up by a sweetly-struck 3-iron from 261 yards. From start to finish, it was a masterclass from the former world No 1 on a course he's played as often as some of the Scots in the field.
Referring to that period when he was based in Edinburgh before moving to Newcastle, Westwood said: "I know the course well, If I had a full day to practise, I would come out here and hit balls for two or three hours, playing nine holes.
"Myself and Sam came up and played it [pre-US Open] with one eye on this week. I thought I could get a practice round done with nobody here, then not have to play – though I played 18 holes on Wednesday. I like the course and knowing it will help if conditions change, obviously.
"I’ve been in a good groove since the US Open. I had to be disciplined there and I took that from there to here today. I aimed away from flags when I needed to and left myself a lot of nice looks uphill for birdies today."
Having sandwiched one of those between the two early eagles, the 10-time Ryder Cup player was out in 31 before picking up four shots in five holes from the 12th to match that score coming back.
"My distance control was good, although it wasn’t quite going as far as normal," he added. "The greens are nice. You feel that if you put a good roll on it then it holds its line. I’m obviously very pleased with my round."Bjork, the 2018 Volvo China Open champion, set up his equally impressive opening effort with a burst of five straight from the 11th - his second hole - before being joined by six-time tour winner Luiten, who finished a round that contained nine birdies just as darkness was descending on Scotland's Golf Coast.Matching his effort from the second round last year, when he finished as the joint-top Scot just outside the top 20, Jamieson got his engine warmed up with three birdies in a row from the second before picking up four in five holes in another productive burst on the back nine.
“I don’t know just how bad it was in the morning," admitted the Florida-based Scot. "I was having my cornflakes and it was raining outside. That's all I knew. But scoring says level par was a good score in the morning, whereas if you shot level par in the afternoon, you were getting left behind."
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