Korea’s Byeong Hun An fired a career low and course-record equalling 9-under 61 to snatch the first round lead at the Genesis Scottish Open on Thursday as he reaped the rewards of a recent switch to the broomstick putter.
The 31-year-old An brilliantly sprinkled nine birdies on a blemish-free card at Renaissance Golf Club in North Berwick for his third 18-hole lead/co-lead on the PGA TOUR. Davis Riley shot a 63 for solo second, two back, while reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy and Thomas Detry ended the opening day in tied third following matching 64s.
Another Korean, K.H. Lee carded a bogey-free 65 for joint fifth while Tom Kim, who finished third here a year ago, renewed his love-affair with links golf with a 66. China’s Ashun Wu and Shubhankar Sharma also enjoyed solid starts with 68s to ensure a strong Asian presence in the Home of Golf.
“It was nice. I couldn't play any better. That's a clean scorecard. Overall, very relaxed out there and the weather has been nice so far,” said An, who is seeking a first PGA TOUR victory.
An’s glorious start has coincided with a recent switch to the broomstick putter. He sought the advice from the likes of Adam Scott and compatriot Si Woo Kim on the benefits of using the unconventional flatstick and found his range on the greens, taking 23 putts.
“I feel very comfortable with it. I talked to other fellows who use the broomstick putter, Adam, Si Woo, asking the pros and cons about it, and spoke to my putting coach. We said, it looked good, felt good, and we are trying to get the hands out of it and that helps me a lot with the long putter. I've been putting pretty decent the past couple of weeks. I just need more time with it,” said An, who ranked 24th in Strokes Gained: Putting at the John Deere Classic last week – the first time he’d broken the top-25 in the stat category since February.
“Birdies are good, but (I made) nice par saves and nice two-putts on some of those 40-, 50-footers. They help a lot and that's why I have a clean scorecard.”
The former U.S. Amateur champion is showing glimpses of his best form once again after regaining his PGA TOUR status through the Korn Ferry Tour last year. He has two top-10s this season and seven other top-25s to be ranked 58th on the FedExCup points list, and is poised to qualify for the Playoffs which is restricted to top-70.
A visit to the home of golf for the US$9 million Genesis Scottish Open, which is co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, is very much welcomed by An who cut his professional teeth in Europe. He started out on the Challenge Tour before making his way to the main circuit where he won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship in 2015.
“I feel like I'm back home. I love it,” said An. “I started on the Challenge Tour, playing links course and have played The Open many times. It's different than the courses we play in the U.S. You just have to land it in different spots. I feel comfortable,” he said.
After missing his last four cuts on the PGA TOUR, Lee was delighted with his five-birdie round after mastering the windy conditions during his morning round. “It was pretty windy and no bogeys, I’m very happy,” said Lee, a two-time PGA TOUR winner.
“I didn’t attack the pins, just stayed patient. I think I learned a lot last year with the hard conditions. It’s pretty challenging as the course is way different style to Korea or in America. I’ve been struggling with my game a bit. I’ve lost a bit of momentum with some bad shots but I’ve tried to stay patient and be mentally strong. This week, I’ve focused on my swing rhythm which is very important.”
McIlroy, ranked third in the world, was the biggest name to feature on the leaderboard on day one as he jumped to a fast start with five birdies in his opening seven holes. The 23-time PGA TOUR winner also made eagle on the par-5, 3rd hole when he rolled in a 35-footer.
“I got off to a great start, a really fast start, and held a couple of really nice putts. Probably the one thing I was not worried about going into today. But more so like I was questioning, it didn't feel like I had maybe had enough time to adjust to links greens, and I didn't putt very well in the Pro-Am yesterday. But I got my eye in early and that was nice to see,” said the 34-year-old Northern Irishman.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler opened his campaign with a 68 while defending champion Xander Schauffele signed for a 70 to be well off the early pace.