27 September 2019: Justin Walters found his form in spectacular style at St Andrews to take a one-shot lead after an emotional first day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Indian golf player Gaganjeet Bhullar made a fighting 69, but on a low scoring day, that was good enough to place him T53. Shubhankar Sharma posted a 71 and needs a good low round in the 60s on Friday to secure his weekend.
Bhullar made a fine start, a birdie at the 11th getting him off to a positive start on the Old Course. A bogey at the par-4 18th hole dropped him back to even, but he blazed a fire at the turn when he knocked in three straight birdies from the first hole.
Another bogey at the 6th threatened to damage his card, but he made a smart recovery with a birdie at the 8th to retain a three-stroke edge over the course.
A double-bogey at the 18th undid plenty of good work for Shubhankar. The 23-year-old was three-under as he reached the final hole, courtesy five birdies, but the final hole knocked him back to a 71.
The South African Walters has faced plenty of adversity on the golf course during the 2019 Race to Dubai, battling a calf injury over the summer and failing to register a top 20 in 23 starts on the European Tour.
The 38-year-old also sadly lost his father this year but revealed after carding a stunning 63 that he felt his presence as he fired his lowest round on the European Tour for six years at the home of golf.
“I’ve been swinging really well all year mostly, from about the U.S. Open when I qualified, and I got to the Irish Open and tore my calf really badly and really struggled to get right again after a while,” said Walters. “I finally got over that and then I lost my dad.
“It was quite hard. I just kind of decided not to feel sorry for myself, really, and kind of dust myself off and come in here, it has a healing quality. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. I was here with my dad when we lost mum and just thought I was back with him.
“When you’re practising and working on things, you can feel things turning. Certainly last week and this week I could feel things turning a little bit. It doesn’t always mean much, you can’t go out there expecting anything, but I just had a good time.”
Fox, Smith and Perez were all also playing at St Andrews, while Otaegui carded his 64 at Kingsbarns.
England’s Matthew Southgate recorded the lowest round of the day at Carnoustie with a 65 to sit at seven under alongside countryman Paul Waring, home favourite Richie Ramsay, South African Jaco Ahlers, Finn Tapio Pulkkanen and Norway’s Kristoffer Reitan.
Lee Westwood made his second hole-in-one of the season and third of his illustrious European Tour career as he holed a six iron from 189 yards on the eighth at Carnoustie for the 26th hole-in-one of the 2019 Race to Dubai.
Walters started on the ninth and picked up shots on the tenth, 11th, 12th, 16th and 17th to join early leader Russell Knox at the top of the leaderboard.
Further gains on the third and fifth had him in a share of the lead once more and when he added another from eight feet on the next, he led alone.
The World Number 444 had a stroke of bad luck as he hit the flag on the seventh but he managed to make par, as Perez charged through the field to join him at the top.
The European Challenge Tour graduate played the back nine in 33 but birdied the first, second, fifth and sixth and, when he put an approach to seven feet on the next, he was tied at the top.
He was not tied for long, though, as Walters holed a wonderful 20 footer on the ninth to edge ahead again.
Fox birdied five of his last six holes to go with a birdie and an eagle on the front nine, while Smith birdied four of his last five to go with a hat-trick from the 12th and a gain on the first.
Big finishes were clearly the order of the day and Otaegui ended his round birdie-birdie-birdie to go with shots picked up on the second, third, ninth, 11th and 12th.
Ahlers and Reitan carded their rounds of 65 over the Old Course, while Pulkkanen, Ramsay and Waring enjoyed productive days at Kingsbarns.
There were then 11 players at six under including two time champion Tyrrell Hatton, 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, Road to Mallorca leader Calum Hill and fellow local favourite Knox.
Fox and cricketer Shane Warne shared the lead at 12 under in the team event with Reitan and Mark Madden, and Shubhankar Sharma and Johan Van Zyl.