Mikko Ilonen rediscovered his form in stunning fashion to fire an opening 65 and take a two-shot lead after day one of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
The Finn arrived at Dundonald Links for the fourth Rolex Series event of 2017 on the back of four missed cuts and with just four sub-70 rounds all season.
He is a five-time winner on the European Tour, though – with one of those victories coming on links land at the 2014 Irish Open – and he showed all his class on the Ayrshire coast to get to seven under and make an excellent start in the hunt for a share of the $7 million prize fund.
Starting from the tenth, Ilonen birdied the 14th and 15th to turn in 34 before five birdies in six holes catapulted him up the leaderboard. A hat-trick of birdies from the first had him in a share of the lead before he took advantage of the par five fifth and put his approach to tap-in range on the next to move clear.
World Number ten and 2015 Scottish Open champion Rickie Fowler of the USA is in a group of six players at five under alongside fellow countryman Paul Peterson, three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington, the English duo of Ian Poulter and Callum Shinkwin, and Australian Andrew Dodt.
The Scottish pair of Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay, Swede Magnus A Carlsson, Ireland’s Paul Dunne, Frenchman Benjamin Hebert and America’s Matt Kuchar are all one further back at four under with former Masters champion and World Number One Adam Scott among the ten-strong chasing pack on three under.
“A 65 is the round of the season for me, really. It’s nice to get something going, make a few birdies and no mistakes on the card.
“I actually changed my irons on Tuesday to Titleist 718s. It can be just little things like which that give you a little extra confidence. I didn’t really miss one shot – well, one tee shot I missed on the eighth – but other than that, I struck the ball better than I have in probably the last two or three years.
“Well, it’s a long way to go, it’s Thursday, isn’t it? You’ve got to take advantage of what you get. When you have those chances, you’ve got to make some birdies. I missed a couple of short-ish birdie chances in the beginning, and luckily I didn’t get frustrated there because there were plenty more holes to come. So, it was just a matter of staying patient.
“Last week was fantastic and The Open coming up next week, I’m not in for that yet, but it’s always been one of my favourite tournaments. I just think the Irish Open, the Scottish Open, should definitely be on links courses, every year.”
“It’s fun to go out on links and, for me, to hit shots that don’t necessarily have to be spot on. It’s kind of about managing the game, hitting shots, working your way around the golf course, putting yourself in the right position and avoiding bunkers.
“I felt like I did a good job of hitting fairways today, staying on the right side of the hole, and I made a couple of birdies. Thursday is all about getting off to a good start and I did a great job of that. I felt like I made a couple of good putts for par to keep the round going. Just a clean card is always a good thing.
“I’m excited to be back, having won here in 2015 at Gullane. I think it’s a great way for me to come over and get ready for The Open, but also to play somewhere where I know I can play well. I love playing links golf. It’s a great week.”
“I’m pretty happy. The last couple of days, I don’t feel like I’ve hit it all that well, so I spent a bit of time yesterday on the range with Pete.
“I got myself in a couple of spots of bother, but pretty much swung it well, put it in position and made a few putts, and that adds up to a nice score.
“As good as the round was today, I’m still going to hit the range. I’m still not 100 per cent happy, and it’s a work-in-progress. So I’ll keep working towards the ultimate goal.
“The last few months have been weird, planning a schedule pretty much in the States, and then obviously a big finish in The Players changes that instantly. So from a miserable-looking summer – I’m not saying it’s miserable playing over there, but it was miserable to be away from obviously Katie and the kids – that turned on its head pretty quickly with one decent finish.
“It’s been great playing in Europe, I’ve had a great time. The weather has been good, so far, in patches. But it’s just nice to be here playing good tournaments, big purses, big fields, and obviously next week in The Open.”
“I played okay through the first 12 holes, or certainly early on, and made the most of it. You know, whatever opportunity came my way, I kind of took it early on and I holed a good putt on the first, which, in these conditions, you’re always happy if you can get under par early on. I moved forward from that. Then I struggled a lot over the last couple of holes in the rain. I kind of panicked coming home but my short game saved me the last couple holes and I have to say the four on 16 was a minor miracle.
“It looked like I was going to take triple-bogey on 16. We were really struggling to find the ball, and my provisional was stuck in the bunker. So I would have been hitting my fifth shot from a long way out, and seven would have been a good return. All of a sudden, I turned it into a four. When things are going your way, they go your way. Thankfully I was doing well enough that it counted. Making a four instead of a seven kind of makes my day.”
“I’m off to a good start and I’m delighted with that. It was one of those days that you had to use the head and if you hit it in the rough, you had to play away from pins.
“It’s a second-shot golf course I would say. Obviously if you’re coming from the fairway and hitting good irons, you can score well. But if you’re coming from the rough, you’ve got to play safe, play away from the flags and two-putt to try to get on to the next hole. So it’s a good mix of holes here. You’ve got long par fives, a bunch you can reach, short par fours and long par threes. It’s a tough track today with a crosswind straight across the course.
“I’d love to play in The Open, so you know you need to do well. I’ve seen a couple of guys do it last week, which was brilliant to get more Scots in it. It’s been my goal for the last three weeks to try and make Birkdale. It’s a good start to that.”
Round one scores
65 M Ilonen (Fin);
67 C Shinkwin (Eng); P Harrington (Irl); A Dodt (Aus); R Fowler (USA); P Peterson (USA); I Poulter (Eng);
68 P Dunne (Irl); M Kuchar (USA); R Ramsay (Sco); M Carlsson (Swe); S Gallacher (Sco); B Hebert (Fra);
69 R Fisher (Eng); K Broberg (Swe); R Paratore (Ita); A Scott (Aus); M Pavon (Fra); P Hanson (Swe); R Karlsson (Swe); L Bjerregaard (Den); R Langasque (Fra); T Aiken (RSA); R Bland (Eng);
70 L Haotong (Chn); D Howell (Eng); L Donald (Eng); D Perrier (Fra); R Cabrera Bello (Esp); A Knappe (Ger); A Noren (Swe); N Colsaerts (Bel); A Sullivan (Eng); R Gouveia (Por);
71 D Lingmerth (Swe); D Stewart (Sco); N Bertasio (Ita); F Zanotti (Par); G Havret (Fra); J Dufner (USA); W Ormsby (Aus); M Kieffer (Ger); S Kjeldsen (Den); C Shih-Chang (Tpe); C Hanson (Eng); S Dyson (Eng); S Lee (Kor); V Dubuisson (Fra); S Heisele (Ger); A Chesters (Eng); D Horsey (Eng); A Wall (Eng); A Cañizares (Esp);
72 E Grillo (Arg); J Scrivener (Aus); M Manassero (Ita); H Stenson (Swe); S Gros (Fra); S Brazel (Aus); J Fahrbring (Swe); C Wood (Eng); R Wattel (Fra); R Fox (Nzl); S Chawrasia (Ind); J Smith (Eng); T Bjørn (Den); S Cink (USA); B An (Kor); M Fraser (Aus); K Aphibarnrat (Tha); B Stone (RSA); B Ritthammer (Ger); M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra); J Lagergren (Swe); A Levy (Fra); A Quiros (Esp); B Rumford (Aus); J Campillo (Esp); M Warren (Sco);
73 J Carlsson (Swe); A Johnston (Eng); N Elvira (Esp); M Wallace (Eng); M Foster (Eng); B Wiesberger (Aut); A Otaegui (Esp); J Donaldson (Wal); P Waring (Eng); M Fitzpatrick (Eng); T Hatton (Eng); J Walters (RSA); E Molinari (Ita); F Fritsch (Ger); A Björk (Swe); H Otto (RSA); R Rock (Eng); R Sterne (RSA); C Paisley (Eng); M Siem (Ger); B Dredge (Wal); J Doherty (Sco); D Brooks (Eng);
74 J Quesne (Fra); N Kimsey (Eng); S Manley (Wal); E De La Riva (Esp); G Wright (Wal); H Porteous (RSA); G Stal (Fra); G Bourdy (Fra); M Korhonen (Fin); J Morrison (Eng); D Fichardt (RSA); R McIlroy (Nir); J Wang (Kor); D Drysdale (Sco); R Knox (Sco); P Reed (USA); M Kaymer (Ger);
75 G Storm (Eng); R Karlberg (Swe); J Edfors (Swe); R Jacquelin (Fra); S Hend (Aus); G McDowell (Nir); P Uihlein (USA); M Southgate (Eng); M Laird (Sco); W Ashun (Chn); T Detry (Bel); B Grace (RSA); L Slattery (Eng);
76 P Larrazábal (Esp); D Frittelli (RSA); L Jensen (Den); A Lahiri (Ind); T Immelman (RSA); M Armitage (Eng); S Jamieson (Sco); D Im (USA); J Lima (Por);
77 P Angles (Esp); D Lipsky (USA); F Aguilar (Chi); P Lawrie (Sco); J Stalter (Fra); D Burmester (RSA); T Jaidee (Tha); N Fasth (Swe); S Henry (Sco);
78 O Fisher (Eng); S Walker (Eng); S Scott (am) (Sco);
79 G Coetzee (RSA); P O’Hara (Sco);
80 D Clarke (Nir);