INVERNESS, Scotland (AP) – Francesco Molinari tied the best round in the Scottish Open's 40-year history, shooting a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-shot lead into the second day of the British Open warm-up tournament.
The Italian rolled in 10 birdies in his first 15 holes in calm early conditions on the Castle Stuart links course, but missed out a chance to shoot the first 59 on the European Tour by finishing with three straight pars.
“I know it's not going to last for much longer,'' he said. “I'll just try to enjoy the moment.''
Top-ranked Luke Donald looked set to finish close behind Molinari until he bogeyed two of his last five holes for a 67. Alejandro Canizares of Spain was second after a 64, with Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and Raphael Jacquelin of France another shot behind.
Links courses have never been Molinari's friends. Only once in eight years as a professional has he made the weekend at a British Open, while his first round on links – as an amateur 11 years ago – will stay with him forever.
“I was living at St. Andrews and it was really windy and I shot 89 on The Old Course,'' said Molinari, noting he avoided a 90 with a birdie on the last hole. “I saw a different kind of golf than I had seen before.''
He made five straight birdies from Nos. 5 to 9 and matched the tournament record set by Paul Curry, who shot 10 under in 1992 when the event was staged at the par-70 Gleneagles.
“The roll I'm getting off the putter is much better and I just feel more confident on the greens,'' said Molinari, who is in line to claim a spot in Europe's Ryder Cup team for September's match against the United States. “Putting is the difference in my scores.''
Molinari dedicated his strong start to his brother Edoardo, who is rehabilitating after surgery to his left wrist two weeks ago.
Ernie Els needed four shots in a greenside bunker, and it nearly got worse when the South African was reported by an eagle-eyed TV viewer for a possible breach of rules.
The two-time U.S. Open champion was confronted by senior referee Andy McFee after his opening round of 70. He was told that a viewer thought Els grounded his club in the bunker on the sixth hole. Footage was reviewed, but Els wasn't handed a two-shot penalty.
“I was doing some bunker practice for the (British) Open next week,'' he said. “I was slightly embarrassed out there.''
Els also made a double-bogey 6 on the 15th – his sixth hole after starting at No. 10 – but seven birdies allowed him to sign for 2 under, eight shots off the lead.
Molinari closed last week's French Open with a 64 and finished second.
Phil Mickelson shot a 1-over 73 in his first round at Castle Stuart.