Thongchai grabs early lead with a 64

LOCH LOMOND (Scotland): Former paratrooper Thongchai Jaidee was flying high at the top of the leaderboard after shooting a seven-under 64 early in the Scottish Open first round yesterday.

Thongchai, who has missed four cuts in his last eight European Tour events, made the most of soft conditions at wet Loch Lomond to regain the sort of form that helped him win back-to-back Malaysian Opens in 2004 and 2005.

The 38-year-old was one shot ahead of 2007 US Open champion Angel Cabrera while Swede Niclas Fasth and Briton John Bickerton were joint third on 66.

Lee Westwood, who occupies top spot in the Ryder Cup points list, and former Scottish Open champions Thomas Levet of France and Sweden’s Johan Edfors were among a cluster of players one stroke further adrift on 67.

“Putting is very important this week and I putted very well today,” Thongchai told reporters. “Last week I missed the cut (at the European Open) because I had 34 putts in the first round and 33 in the second.

“If you hit good shots and there is no putting, no birdies, you make bogeys, you shoot over-par. If I putt very well I think I can do better.”

World number two Phil Mickelson and twice former winner Ernie Els were among the late starters as was Britain’s Ross Fisher, who romped to a seven-stroke win at the European Open.

Another late starter, Pelle Edberg, used a five-iron to record a hole-in-one at the 191-yard, par-three 17th. The 29-year-old Swede was one-under through 11 holes.

Tournament leader Thongchai was second in the Hong Kong Open in November but blazed a trail in Malaysia in 2004 by becoming the first Thai to win a European Tour event.

He started the warm-up tournament for next week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale with a bogey five at the second but a sparkling run of five birdies in seven holes took him to the turn in 32, four-under.

Thongchai made further inroads on par at the 13th before birdies at the two closing holes carried him clear of the field.

The 38-year-old Cabrera, who is aiming to emulate compatriot Eduardo Romero’s win here six years ago, and Fasth both carded bogey-free rounds after starting at the 10th hole.

“This is a very good course and I enjoy playing here,” said Cabrera. “Argentina has had success here in the past with Eduardo and I would dearly love to follow in his footsteps.”

Earlier, torrential overnight rain left parts of the course flooded and caused a 90-minute delay to the start but Fasth praised the way the course had stood up to the bad weather.

“Conditions are very good considering where we were this morning,” he said. “The course has been playing just fine and is in great shape.” – Reuters

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