The way Tom Lewis waxed lyrical about his new house made Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion sound like a corrugated iron shed. "I have very expensive tastes," said the 22-year-old from Welwyn Garden City after posting a five-under 67 on day one of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles to sit just two shots behind early pacesetters Bernd Wiesberger and Ricardo Gonzalez. "There are security cameras and I turned a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom so I could have a big wardrobe. And there's a 15-foot sofa that I don't need."
There is the small matter of paying for it, of course. It could be the case that the Englishman's home is becoming a hassle. After winning the silver medal as the leading amateur in the 2011 Open at Sandwich, Lewis went on to land the European Tour's Portugal Masters a couple of months later in just his third start as a professional.
That success earned him almost £400,000 but, with a variety of fancy fixtures and fittings to shell out for, the former Walker Cup player could do with a finish like that again. "I maybe went slightly over the top with the fancy stuff, which set us back a bit," he conceded. "I thought that I would play a little better than I have."
Since that barnstorming breakthrough, Lewis' best finish has been a tie for 11th at the Sicilian Open a year past April. He has missed the cut in 10 of his 16 events this year and languishes down in 193rd place on the order of merit. With his exemption as a tournament winner expiring at the end of this season, these are challenging times. In fact, it has been a challenge ever since he won.
There was no apprenticeship at a lower level for Lewis. Instead he burst on to the scene and had to deal with all the hype and hysteria when he still had to find his feet. "I think I'm a better player now but I was coming from such a high from the Open and turning pro, I probably didn't know what to expect," said Lewis, who repaired the damage of a double-bogey on the third with seven birdies in total including three in a row at 16, 17 and 18. "That probably worked in my favour at the time but now I know how tough it is. I think I wasn't ready to win then and instead of learning on the Challenge Tour I had to do it in the limelight."
On a dull, dry and calm day that was perfect for scoring, Wiesberger, who was born in the Austrian capital, enjoyed something of a waltz from Vienna with a splendid seven-under 65 as he reaffirmed his affinity for the PGA Centenary course. Two years ago, he was one of five players involved in a play-off for the title. The 27-year-old faltered then but tour success would arrive the following season when he won both the Ballantine's Championship and the Lyoness Open. "Two years ago here, I still needed to get that feeling of what it was like to play for a win," said the remarkably consistent Wiesberger, who has not missed a cut in a regular European Tour event since the Dunhill Links Championship last October. "I didn't win here but, looking back, it definitely helped me and it was part of my progress as a player."
Wiesberger was joined late in the day at the top by the evergreen Argentine Gonzalez, the 43-year-old who has four tour titles on his cv and bolstered his assault here by packing seven birdies and an eagle into an eventful 65.
The chasing pack on six-under is made up of half a dozen players and includes Englishman Mark Foster, who was also in that lengthy play-off of 2011, former Ryder Cup player Ross Fisher, Australia's Brett Rumford, who chipped in for birdie on the 13th amid a tidy card, and the recuperating Spaniard Ignacio Garrido, who has been battling against the debilitating effects of glandular fever since April. "I shouldn't have played for three or four months really but I couldn't stop during the best part of the season," he said. "Of course, I should've stopped but it's easy to say that now."
With qualification for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles beginning in Wales next week, Paul McGinley may just fancy his own chances after a spirited 68. "That's me just warming up," the European captain said with a smile before admitting that he has withdrawn himself from the points list. "There's no way you could be a playing captain."
After a decent Scottish summer for a change, the PGA Centenary course is playing reasonably firm and fast and, with the rough not as penal as in previous sodden years, McGinley's reconnaissance mission yesterday gave the Irishman plenty of food for thought . "I took a lot of notes in my yardage book," said the ever meticulous Dubliner. "I really learned a huge amount from playing the course. It certainly suited me and my eye, whether it suits the players in the Ryder Cup is another story. I'll get some feedback from the players about what kind of course we will have because the set up is my prerogative as the home team captain."
Chris Doak, two-over after three, rallied to finish with a three-under 69, the same tally as Richie Ramsay and Craig Lee. Paul Lawrie, the defending champion, finished with a flourish and birdied two of his last three holes in a two-under 70.