Liam Johnston has chance of 59 as he leads Portugal Masters

Scot opens with blistering 10 birdies to lead European Tour event in Villamoura

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 4:52 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th September 2020, 8:47 pm
Liam Johnston shows his delight during a Sky Sports interview after opening with a brilliant bogey-free 61 in the Portugal Masters in Villamoura. Picture: Getty Images
Liam Johnston shows his delight during a Sky Sports interview after opening with a brilliant bogey-free 61 in the Portugal Masters in Villamoura. Picture: Getty Images

Liam Johnston produced a brave bid to become just the second player in European Tour history to card a 59 as the Dumfries man led the way in a low-scoring first round in the Portugal Masters.

The 27-year-old, who doesn't hold a full card for the main tour at the moment, carded a brilliant bogey-free 10-under-par 61 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Villamoura to lead by a shot from Frenchman Julien Guerrier.

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Johnston, a two-time winner on the Challenge Tour in 2018, birdied the first, fourth, fifth and sixth to be out in 31 before further gains at the 10th, 12th and 13th set up a chance to match Oliver Fisher's historic effort on the same course just under two years ago.

He then moved to nine-under for the round following birdies at the 15th and 16th, producing a great up and down at the former then rolling in a 20-footer at the next, leaving him needing to finish 3-3 to join that '59 Club'.

The former Scottish Stroke Play champion found the green in two at the par-5 17th but left his 30-foot eagle attempt agonisingly short, having to settle for his tenth birdie of the day.

That left him requiring to hole his second shot at the last and, though he produced a great effort from 152 yards, he signed off a great day's work with a par-4.

"I had no idea," replied Johnston to being asked if a 59 had been in his sights down the stretch. "I thought it was a par 72, but I was obviously trying to hole the putt on 17 for eagle but left it a little bit short before making a nice par on the last."

Asked if he was more pleased with ten birdies or more bogeys, he added: "A bit of both, to be honest. With the rough out there, it was nice to keep the bogeys off the card. I saved well when I needed to, holing a lot of good putts out there, and I am delighted with the ten birdies."

The effort comfortably beat Johnston's previous best score on the European Tour, having opened with a 67 en route to a top-five finish in the Czech Masters last season.

"I told my coach (James Erskine, the PGA pro at Dumfries & County) back home that I was swinging it as good as I have," said the former African Amateur champion. "My game feels as it is really trending in the right direction and, more importantly, I have really improved mentally.

"I wouldn't say I felt a round like this has been coming, but I have been playing well."

Johnston, who sits outside the top 600 in the world, held a three-shot lead in the clubhouse until Guerrier, a former Amateur champion, birdied four of the last five holes in a blistering late salvo.

The two eye-cactching efforts came after Tommy Fleetwood, the top-ranked player in the field, had opened with a three-under-par 68.

David Law was next best among the Scots with a 69, one less than David Drysdale as he completed his first round since having to sit out of back-to-back events at Celtic Manor and then retiring in the UK Championship at The Belfry due to back trouble.

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