Francesco Molinari hits course-record to lead the way at Scottish Open

Francesco Molinari fired a blistering 10-under 62 to take a two-shot first round lead in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

The Italian, who shot nine-under for his last 17 holes when runner-up at last week’s French Open, continued his red-hot form on the links of Castle Stuart and even had a chance at the European Tour’s first-ever 59.

After carding 10 birdies in a bogey-free first 15 holes, Molinari needed three more to post the magic number but had to settle for three pars and content himself with a new course record and a share of the lowest round in the history of the tournament.

He leads by two from Spain’s Alejandro Canizares who shot six closing birdies to post eight-under late in the day. It’s a further shot back to Dane Soren Kjeldsen and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.

World number one Luke Donald, the defending champion, is nicely placed in a big group on five-under.

However he had slightly mixed emotions after dropping two shots late on when seven-under with five to play and looking all set to be Molinari’s nearest challenger.

“Usually I’m pretty happy with 67, but I’m five back already,” he said with a smile. “But there were a lot of positives there after three weeks away from competition.”

It was his first tournament since missing the cut in the US Open and he added: “I was disappointed with my control of the ball there. It’s still a touch off, but a lot better.”

Molinari can actually claim a 59. He played his back nine in 29 in France on Sunday and his first nine holes here in 30 on a morning when conditions could hardly have been easier.

“It’s not as easy as it looks and I know it won’t go on like this,” he said.

“I thought about 59 on the seventh tee (his 16th), but the last three holes are not that easy. Hopefully I will get another chance in the future.”

Ernie Els, playing with Donald, had to settle for a two under 70 after taking four shots to get out of a greenside bunker at the long sixth.

There was even a danger for a while it might turn out worse as a television viewer contacted the European Tour about whether Els had tested the sand during his time in there, but he was not penalised.

Padraig Harrington had a 69, while playing partner Paul Casey’s struggles continued with a 76.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Phil Mickelson in his afternoon three-ball with Scots Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird.

The left-hander, seeking some form ahead of next week’s Open Championship at Lytham, had a double bogey seven on the 12th and three other bogeys to post a one-over 73.

That put him wll outside the top 100 and only the top 65 and ties make it through the 36-hole cut.

Lawrie also had to settle for a 73 but Laird is in good position to attack on Friday morning after posting a 68.