Over the new Moray Firth links which encourages attacking golf, the 38-year-old Englishman, the world No.2, was swiftly on the offensive and posted a neatly assembled seven-under 65 to finish alongside Chile’s Mark Tullo at the top of the pile.
At the end of an opening day, characterised by a feisty breeze, squally showers and the odd ray of glorious sunshine, the leading duo ended up a stroke clear of a chasing pack featuring South Africa’s George Coetzee, Danish tour rookie Thorbjorn Olesen and Swedish Ryder Cup player Peter Hanson.
Westwood, who plundered the Scottish Open title at Loch Lomond in 1998, burnished his card with an eagle-three at the par-five 18th -- he started his round on the 10th tee -- as he made a menacing early advance to the head of the standings.
“It’s a great start and 65 puts me in contention,” said the 21-time European Tour winner. “It’s all about getting into position and carrying that into the next few days and winning the Barclays Scottish Open.”
Tullo, who is plying his trade on the European Tour for the first time after coming through the Challenge Tour last season, shrugged off his lack of links golf experience with an impressive 65 as he upstaged a host of the game’s leading lights.
“This is links golf and you can’t control anything,” said the 33-year-old. “But I had fun out there today. In Chile, there is one course up north that’s hardpan and you have to try and hit it low but this is different. I probably played a links for the first time in an Open qualifier five years ago. I don’t have much experience but I do enjoy being out there.”
Coetzee, Hanson and Olesen tucked themselves among the frontrunners with 66s while Edoardo Molinari, the defending champion, spoiled an otherwise blemish-free card with a bogey six on his 15th to lurk two off the pace. “I made a mistake where I was just 30 yards from the flag and managed to take six but apart from that it was a solid round,” said the Italian Ryder Cup player.
English veteran Barry Lane, the 1988 Scottish Open champion at Gleneagles, and Retief Goosen, who landed the tartan title in 2000, also started with 67s while Luke Donald, the world No 1, joined that posse after setting the heather alight with a purposeful five-under inward half.
“It caught on fire a bit on the last nine,” he said. “It’s a course you feel like you have a few opportunities but it can easily get to you if you get on a run of holes where you’re not taking advantage of those chances. But I stayed patient and it was nice to finish as strongly as I did.”
Colin Montgomerie, who needs a top-five finish to have any hope of qualifying for next week’s Open, led an encouraging first-day assault by the home contingent with a 67 and finished alongside Marc Warren, Peter Whiteford and Scott Jamieson.