Rickie Fowler picked up where he left off at the Scottish Open, shooting a 5-under 67 to leave the 2015 champion tied for the lead midway through the first round at Dundonald Links on Thursday.
The American, who didn’t defend his title last year because of scheduling issues arising from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, showed great links course management in making five birdies and not dropping any shots.
Unlike playing partners Rory McIlroy (74) and Henrik Stenson (72), whose play was erratic in a light breeze off Scotland’s west coast, Fowler only found trouble once in his round when he drove right on the par-5 3rd hole and into a burn. He chipped out from an awkward stance and managed to make the first of three straight birdies.
The highlight was a left-to-right birdie putt at No. 4 that curled into the cup from 20 feet.
“We just tried to manage my way around the golf course and pick it apart a bit, get aggressive when we can be but play defensive at times if trouble comes,” said Fowler, who has described links golf as his favorite type. “It’s our strategy over here … and we’ll continue to do that.”
Fowler was tied with Andrew Dodt of Australia and Englishmen Ian Poulter and Callum Shinkwin after the morning starters in the warmup event for next week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Open champion Stenson, who will hand back the claret jug on Monday, rebounded from a triple-bogey 7 on his first hole (No. 10) – after driving left into thick rough and needing three hacks to get the ball out – to shoot level par. But he cut a frustrated figure on his back nine, chucking his club high into the air on his last hole after a weak approach.
Wedge play was McIlroy’s undoing, too, on a day the out-of-form world No. 3 failed to shoot the consistent round he has looking for ahead of the Open. On his third and fourth holes, he was in the middle of the fairway and less than 100 yards out, yet fell short and right with his approaches – the latter into a burn to necessitate a drop for a double-bogey.
From 4 over after four holes, McIlroy recovered to 1 over after 16, with three of his four birdies coming via tap-ins on par fives. However, he bogeyed his last hole to shoot 2 over after pushing his drive and finding a front greenside bunker with his approach.
McIlroy has missed the cut in two of his last three events – the U.S. Open and the Irish Open – and has struggled with the reading of his putts.