Tongchai Ups

Golf: Thailand’s Thongchai upstages Els and Mickelson at Scottish Open

LOCH LOMOND, Scotland: Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Sweden’s Alexander Noren shared the first round lead at the Scottish Open on Thursday as the tournament’s heavy artillery failed to fire.

An early starter, former paratrooper Thongchai made light of rain-soaked conditions and the back problems which have blighted his season to fire eight birdies in a seven-under-par 64 that was matched by Noren late in the day.

Noren, 25, started slowly but he picked up six shots on his last nine holes to join Thongchai in the lead, a shot clear of 2007 US Open champion Angel Cabrera (65).

The quality of the pace setters’ performances was underlined by the difficulties Phil Mickelson (71), Ernie Els (72) and world number three Adam Scott (72) encountered in making an impact on a course that had been saturated by torrential overnight rain, which resulted in a 90-minute delay to the start of play.

It was a particularly frustrating day for Els, who bogeyed two of his last three holes to slip to one over, having been two under early in his round.

Mickelson, like Els returning to action after a three-week lay-off, was almost as erratic, three birdies cancelled out by the same number of bogeys.

Scott got off to a terrible start, running up a triple bogey seventh on his opening hole, the par four 10th, and the Australian was only able to claim back two of those shots.

Thongchai attributed his score to a remodelled putting stroke and his acclimatisation to northern Europe’s fickle weather patterns.

“Last week I missed the cut (at the European Open) and I had 34 putts the first round, 33 the second,” he said. “I was hitting good shots but scoring bogeys.

“But with my coach I’ve done a lot of work on my ball positioning and I think I’m lining putts up much better now. I feel a lot more comfortable on the greens.”

After five years on the European Tour, Thongchai has also learned how to play in conditions that are far removed from those he grew up with, partly as a result of practising at home in sweltering temperatures in long sleeves and full rainwear.

“I’d do it for about an hour at a time until I got too sweaty,” he said. “People would look at me as if I was crazy but you have to try.”

Thongchai, 38, needs to finish as the top player not already exempt for next week’s British Open to clinch one of the last remaining spots at Royal Birkdale next week.

“I’m supposed to be going home to see my doctor about my back but I’ll postpone it if I get into the Open,” he said.

Former European number one Lee Westwood, who missed out on a place in the play-off at last month’s US Open by one shot, continued his fine recent form with an opening 67, two better than playing partner Colin Montgomerie.

Westwood, 35, has finished third three times and fifth twice on the European Tour this season, but admitted he was slightly frustrated at not turning his consistent form into a victory.

“I’ve had lots of chances but I’m playing well at a time of year where it’s very important to be doing so,” he said.

Montgomerie’s opening 69 was marred by a dropped shot on the par-three eighth, a hole he recently played 18 times in a morning while entertaining guests at his wedding at the club, managing 14 pars and four birdies. – AFP/de