England’s Steve Webster shrugged off a bad back and a large slice of history to take the lead in the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a superb 65 at Carnoustie.
“I am delighted with the start I have made. I don’t think I’ve ever broken 70 in this tournament so it’s a bit of a breakthrough. Let’s hope it keeps going,” said Webster.
Webster, who made a blistering start with three birdies in the first three holes and never let up the pace, has had a bad back and missed five tournaments, but it did not show. “I was struggling a little bit with it, and it’s a bit sore now, but it’s nothing to worry about.”
Before he was overtaken by Webster, Scotland’s Paul Lawrie had once again enjoyed the cheers of the St Andrews galleries as he temporarily took the first round lead. For Lawrie it brought back happy memories of 2001 when he won the inaugural Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The Scot from Aberdeen shot a six-under-par 66 on the Old Course, to be one behind Webster, along with Denmark’s Soren Hansen, South Africa’s Hennie Otto and Australia’s Scott Strange on a day of kind weather and good scoring, with 30 players breaking 70.
The tournament, conceived as a celebration of links golf, is played over three of the world’s best known and respected links courses - the Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie and the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links.
Joining the professionals were an enthusiastic group of talented amateur golfers including Hollywood stars Dennis Hopper, Samuel L Jackson, Kyle MacLachlan and Bill Murray, popular British actors Hugh Grant and Dougray Scott, US TV star Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond, George Lopez, US sitcom writer and actor, music stars Don Felder of the Eagles, Ronan Keating, Huey Lewis and Tico Torres of Bon Jovi.
Three of Britain’s greatest sporting knights – Sir Ian Botham, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Steve Redgrave - led a strong locker room of sports stars including football legends Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Matthew Le Tissier, Wimbledon tennis hero Boris Becker, cricket captains Michael Vaughan from England and Steve Waugh from Australia, South African rugby giant Morné du Plessis, American Football’s renowned running back Marcus Allen and Austria’s Olympic gold medal skier Franz Klammer.
Paul Lawrie, who won the inaugural Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2001, and the 1999 Open championship at Carnoustie, had four birdies and an eagle in six holes from the 9th. He hit a rescue club 272 yards to within three feet at the 14th for his eagle.
He said: “It’s obviously a very good start. It’s always nice to play at the Old Course. You always get a nice feeling when you walk down the 1st hole. It was good to hole a few putts. I’ve been playing really well for a long, long time, but I haven’t been able to get the good play and the good putting together. That’s probably the best start in a tournament for a long, long time. Hopefully we can just keep it going.”
Denmark’s Soren Hansen, fresh from his Mercedes-Benz European Championship win, framed his 66 on the Old Course around a run of four birdies in four holes from the 10th hole. He said: “I feel I have been knocking on the door a lot recently and then all of a sudden to get over the finish line in Cologne was great. I feel like I am pretty much in control of what I am doing and it is fantastic playing golf that way. I think this is a great tournament. Day in, day out playing the same format can get a bit much which is why I think the Dunhill offers such great diversity and is a great tournament,” he added.
With so many players scoring well, many of the world’s top players are within a few shots of the lead. Among those on 67 are World No 5 Ernie Els, who had eight birdies but whose score could have been much better but for bogeys on the last two holes at Carnoustie, Niclas Fasth, who suffered a double bogey at the difficult 16th at Carnoustie, and England’s Luke Donald, whose round featured six birdies and a bogey.
Defending champion Padraig Harrington was a little further back with a 70 at Carnoustie, the course where he dramatically won the Open championship in July. He said: “It was special to come back. It’s been really nice going around the golf course reliving a lot of the shots that might have made headlines that week. On the 2nd hole I played a left-handed bunker shot and managed to get it out. Things like that are not really known.
“The fact that I’m Open champion probably made a bit of a difference, a little bit of expectation and put a little bit of pressure on out there. I was quite happy when I got it under par and had the feeling that it was going to be a respectable day. I felt good about that.”
At the end of the first round there was a six way tie on ten-under-par for the Team Championship between Anton Haig & Schalk Burger, Peter Hanson & Paula Gleacher, Damien McGrane & Gerry O’Connor, Prom Meesawat & Munkh-Orgil Tsend, Hennie Otto & Wayne Quasha and Scott Strange & Robert Coe.
Shot of the day undoubtedly belonged to Scottish actor Dougray Scott, the star of films like Enigma and Mission Impossible II, who scored a nett albatross two at the par five 12th hole at Kingsbarns. After finishing on three-under-par with Terry Price, he said: “It was undoubtedly the best hole of the day for me. I hit a driver off the tee, followed by a rescue club and then holed the putt of around 60 feet.
“It’s amazing how your game changes in this atmosphere with all the spectators and cameras but having grown up in St Andrews, it’s a fantastic experience to take part in this event and play in a great tournament on such great courses.”
Football legend Sir Bobby Charlton was paired with Sandy Lyle, who he first played with 35 years ago. They finished on one-under-par and Sir Bobby, who will be 70 next Thursday, said: “Playing with Sandy Lyle is great. He’s a real character and a great player who has tried to help me with my game. I played with him 35 years ago in Kenya when it was one of the stops on the European Tour.
Marcus Allen, the American Football running back, was three-under-par with South African professional Richard Sterne. He said: “The opportunity to come here and play is a treasure. It means a lot to me to play these historical venues . This is my second Dunhill. Carnoustie was nasty the first time I played it, it was wet and cold. Today it was rather a benign day, although the course was still rather nasty to me.”
Hollywood star Kyle MacLachlan, partnered with Ireland’s Paul McGinley, shot a six-under-par team score, and declared himself satisfield. “The conditions couldn’t have been nicer for Carnoustie, which is usually a monster. I love this course, it’s my favourite. It’s a real challenge for me because I’m not that good, so when you play a shot the right way it gives you a real feeling of confidence. My partner Paul McGinley was really rock solid today. He made three or four saves that were absolutely critical so that we didn’t drop a shot. He had a great round today.”
Scotland’s Sam Torrance, playing with son Daniel, with whom he won the Team Championship in 2003, was five-under par. He said: “It’s nice to be playing with Daniel again. Our score is not great, but not bad. We had a good little run going and then dropped one at the 8th. We were partnered with Ian Botham and Lloyd Saltman and had a good time today. I have been friends with Ian for years and we had a few laughs and a few grimaces as well.”
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