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Geoff Drakeford motoring nicely at picturesque Panmure

Travelling around with his fellow Australians in a cramped van that would make a sardine gasp 'Strewth, that's tight', Geoff Drakeford emerged from the pack to lead the way on day one of the Carrick Neill Scottish Open Strokeplay Championship at Panmure yesterday.

Calum Hill had a tough back nine but leads the Scottish challenge with Greig Smail
Calum Hill had a tough back nine but leads the Scottish challenge with Greig Smail

"There are nine of us over and we have a nine-seater van," reported the 22-year-old, who stretched his legs with a five-under 65 on a delightful day in sunny Angus. "Once we get all our clubs and stuff in, we can barely see each other. It's pretty tight."

Drakeford and the rest of this Aussie expeditionary force are following a well-trodden path, of course. Geoff Ogilvy, who would go on to become a major champion (2006 US Open), has always maintained that those care-free days in the amateur ranks when he bounced around the UK circuit with his pals from Down Under were some of the happiest of his career. It was an eye-opening experience both on and off the course.

In these times of high-performance, heavily funded programmes, things are a tad more regimented. "I'm with the Victoria Institute of Sport and I'm still allowed a beer but I think the Golf Australia set-up is tougher," added Drakeford as he recalled the fate that befell his compatriot Matt Stieger a couple of years ago when he was banned for six months after one bevvy too many.

It was Drakeford, though, who couldn't give a 'Four X' for Panmure's tricky back-nine as he surged home in four-under over a stretch that many came a cropper on.

A 3-iron into four-feet on the 12th set up a birdie and provided the catalyst for a profitable thrust which featured further gains at 14, 15 and 17. "The nice weather certainly helped me," added the man from the small town of Yarram, who has experienced some fairly dour days in the three years that he has been making this annual golfing pilgrimage to the cradle of the game.

"The front nine was down breeze and playing a bit easier but I seemed to buck the trend in my round. I've not done very well in this event in the times I have played it so this was encouraging."

Huddersfield's Nick Marsh, playing in the very last match, began with a birdie-eagle-birdie salvo on the first three holes and then parred every one after that en route to a 66 while Paul Howard, an Englishman who is well-versed in the nuances of the links game coming as he does from the golfing hotbed of Southport, carved out a tidy three-under 67 which left him handily placed.

Howard, a GB&I squad member who won the South American Amateur Championship earlier this year, picked up birdies at 13, 14 and 16 as his bid to emulate the 2009 Scottish Strokeplay success of his fellow Southport resident, Tommy Fleetwood, got off to a sprightly start.

Rhys Pugh, the Welshman who notched the winning point for GB&I in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen lurks menacingly on 68 while the East Lothian duo of Calum Hill and Greig Smail lead the Scottish assault after one-under 69s.

Hill who has just returned home from his first year at the University of Louisiana Monroe in the United States, was three-under through six holes but leaked a couple of shots on the testing run-in. "The back nine was much tougher and I was trying to grind it out," said last season's Lothians Boys' champion.

Glasgow's Jamie Savage, the winner of the Irish Open Strokeplay earlier this month, fared much better on the inward half and picked up two strokes in a spirited level-par 70.

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