GLENEAGLES, Scotland – England’s Mark Foster put himself in another great position to break an eight-year tournament drought by grabbing the clubhouse lead in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship at foggy Gleneagles on Thursday.
Playing only his second tournament in seven weeks, Foster acknowledged feeling “under-golfed” coming to Perthshire but rolled in eight birdies in a 6-under 66 on the PGA Centenary course – the venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Four of them came in successive holes on Nos. 11-14, as he turned in 30 after starting on No. 10. Although he made a couple of bogeys coming home, Foster did enough to claim a one-shot overnight cushion over Spain’s Ignacio Garrido and Argentina’s Tano Goya.
The start of play was delayed by more than 2 1/2 hours because of thick fog, with early starters not able to see further than 50 meters. That meant 51 players – including Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, Ryder Cup captains past and present – were unable to complete their rounds, and will do so early Friday.
Foster has held the lead, or a share of the lead, at various stages of three tournaments this season – the French Open, the BMW International Open and the Scottish Open – but never managed to back up his win at the 2003 Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
By quickly mastering the greens in Gleneagles, Foster is firmly in the frame again this week.
“That could have been a special first nine holes because I three-putted the par-5 No. 16,” said Foster, who is likely to make the Britain & Ireland team for next month’s Vivendi Seve Trophy in Paris.
“I just have a bit more belief in myself this year. It sounds strange but I have stopped trying to win. I’ve stopped pitching up on a Tuesday thinking about winning – I just want to be the best I can for the week.”
Foster was among a number of players affected by swarms of wasps and hover flies across the course.
“Two of the three (in his group) backed off before every shot,” he said.
Both Garrido, playing in the group in front of Foster, and Goya made six birdies in solid rounds to lie a stroke ahead of Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, Ireland’s Peter Lawrie and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar, who were level in fourth place on 4 under.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari – at No. 22, the highest-ranked player in the 156-man field – was among a group of 19 players in the clubhouse on 2 under but his older brother, defending champion Edoardo Molinari, shot a disappointing 74.
Ross Fisher, who along with the Molinari brothers is the other 2010 Ryder Cup star competing in central Scotland, had one of the more eventful rounds of the day.
Hindered by a triple-bogey 8 at the long No. 16, Fisher – who started at No. 10 – turned in 40 but came home in 31 to finish on 1 under.
“I played one bad shot all round but I was 5 over after seven holes,” said the Englishman. “If you’d have told me on No. 17 that I’d shoot 1 under, I’d have thought you were having a laugh.”
England’s Nick Dougherty, at one time regarded among the brightest hopes in British golf, is bidding to make the cut for the first time in 21 events but a quadruple-bogey 7 at the short No. 6 didn’t help his cause after a good start.
Dougherty, who is yet to make any money from golf this season and is in danger of losing his European Tour playing rights, finished on 4 over – 10 shots off the pace.