Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington four off the pace at the Scottish Open

Edoardo Molinari was among many to take advantage of ideal conditions at the Scottish Open on Thursday, vaulting into a four-way share of the first-round lead in North Berwick.

Edoardo, older brother of reigning British Open champion Francesco, carded eight-under-par 63, a score matched by fellow Italian Nino Bertasio, American Matt Kuchar and France’s Romain Wattel at the Renaissance Club.

While Francesco is having a week off to prepare for next week’s Open at Royal Portrush, Edoardo is attempting to qualify as one of the top three finishers this week not also already exempt.

Soft conditions and little breeze left the course at the mercy of the field on a day when more than half the players broke 70.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and American Justin Thomas carded 67, while former champion Rickie Fowler was among just a handful of players to struggle, shooting 71.

Greystones’ Paul Dunne carded a one-under par 70. Graeme McDowell is two over par.

Wattel and Bertasio are also chasing the Open places along with the likes of Lee Slattery and Jamie Donaldson, who won the Irish Open when it was staged at Royal Portrush in 2012.

“To play next week would be huge,” said Donaldson, who has missed the cut in four of his six events in 2019 after seven months on the sidelines following wrist surgery.

“If I can get into a position to get in that would be just fantastic and I would be really, really buzzing to get back there.

“It has been tough getting going again after seven months out, the momentum is not quite there but it’s a case of keeping going until you start to put it all together again.”

Former Open champion Henrik Stenson is two shots off the pace after a bogey-free 65 but admitted “target golf” was not the ideal preparation for Portrush, where he spent two days preparing last week.

“You want to be in the mindset of landing a pitching wedge five or six paces short of the pin and skipping forward, but all of a sudden they are now spinning back,” Stenson said.

“It’s almost like you have to force yourself in the other direction. Normally you want time to readjust coming from target golf.”

Pre-tournament favourite McIlroy made a flying start to his round with four birdies in the first six holes but was unable to make any further progress to end the day four off the pace.

“I think they were pretty generous in terms of the course set-up because they have never been here before,” McIlroy said.

“The rain softened the greens and any links course we go to where there is not much wind people are going to rip it apart.

“It was sort of tough to get it close to the holes coming in just because the wind had picked up. But overall pretty pleased with how the day went.”

McIlroy praised the performance of playing partner Robert MacIntyre, the 22-year-old left-hander carding a 68 as he continues his impressive debut season on the European Tour.

“I thought he did great,” McIlroy added. “I said to him I enjoyed watching him at Hillside when he finished second in the British Masters and he played great here, he handled himself really well.

“He got off to a nice start, it was a bit of a shaky one for him around the middle but he came back with a couple of birdies coming in. I thought he did very well.”

Scores from the European Tour Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open on Thursday

 -8  Nino Bertasio (Italy)                     63

     Matt Kuchar (USA)                         63

     Edoardo Molinari (Italy)                  63

     Romain Wattel (France)                    63

 -7  Thomas Aiken (South Africa)               64

     Jamie Donaldson (Wales)                   64

     Thomas Pieters (Belgium)                  64

     Kalle Samooja (Finland)                   64

     Lee Slattery (England)                    64

     Andy Sullivan (England)                   64

     Erik Van Rooyen (South Africa)            64

 -6  Romain Langasque (France)                 65

     Chris Paisley (England)                   65

     Ian Poulter (England)                     65

     Richie Ramsay (Scotland)                  65

     Henrik Stenson (Sweden)                   65

     Oliver Wilson (England)                   65

 -5  Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark)               66

     Alexander Björk (Sweden)                  66

     Rafa Cabrera Bello (Spain)                66

     Sean Crocker (USA)                        66

     Gonzalo Fernandez Castano (Spain)         66

     Darren Fichardt (South Africa)            66

     Trevor Immelman (South Africa)            66

     Mikko Korhonen (Finland)                  66

     Jacques Kruyswijk (South Africa)          66

     Guido Migliozzi (Italy)                   66

     Jeff Winther (Denmark)                    66

 -4  Ashley Chesters (England)                 67

     Victor Dubuisson (France)                 67

     Oliver Fisher (England)                   67

     Matthew Fitzpatrick (England)             67

     Grant Forrest (Scotland)                  67

     Gavin Green (Malaysia)                    67

     Padraig Harrington (Republic of Ireland)  67

     Benjamin Hebert (France)                  67

     Lucas Herbert (Australia)                 67

     David Horsey (England)                    67

     Masahiro Kawamura (Japan)                 67

     Pablo Larrazábal (Spain)                  67

     Tom Lewis (England)                       67

     David Lipsky (USA)                        67

     Joost Luiten (Netherlands)                67

     Stuart Manley (Wales)                     67

     Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)           67

     Adrian Otaegui (Spain)                    67

     Renato Paratore (Italy)                   67

     Eddie Pepperell (England)                 67

     Sebastian Soderberg (Sweden)              67

     Hideto Tanihara (Japan)                   67

     Justin Thomas (USA)                       67

     Jeunghun Wang (Korea Republic)            67

     Bernd Wiesberger (Austria)                67

 -3  George Coetzee (South Africa)             68

     David Drysdale (Scotland)                 68

     Nacho Elvira (Spain)                      68

     Lorenzo Gagli (Italy)                     68

     Branden Grace (South Africa)              68

     Calum Hill (Scotland)                     68

     Anton Karlsson (Sweden)                   68

     Martin Kaymer (Germany)                   68

     Kurt Kitayama (USA)                       68

     Mike Lorenzo-Vera (France)                68

     Robert MacIntyre (Scotland)               68

     James Morrison (England)                  68

     Andrea Pavan (Italy)                      68

     Victor Perez (France)                     68

     Haydn Porteous (South Africa)             68

     Max Schmitt (Germany)                     68

     Matthias Schwab (Austria)                 68

     Richard Sterne (South Africa)             68

     Brandon Stone (South Africa)              68

     Julian Suri (USA)                         68

     Matt Wallace (England)                    68

 -2  Dean Burmester (South Africa)             69

     Jorge Campillo (Spain)                    69

     Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium)               69

     Thomas Detry (Belgium)                    69

     Pelle Edberg (Sweden)                     69

     Raphaël Jacquelin (France)                69

     Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand)               69

     Andrew Johnston (England)                 69

     Si Woo Kim (Korea Republic)               69

     Zander Lombard (South Africa)             69

     Sanghyun Park (Korea Republic)            69

     Andrew Putnam (USA)                       69

     Alvaro Quiros (Spain)                     69

     Jason Scrivener (Australia)               69

     Jack Singh Brar (England)                 69

     Justin Walters (South Africa)             69

     Paul Waring (England)                     69

     Marc Warren (Scotland)                    69

     Fabrizio Zanotti (Paraguay)               69

 -1  Christiaan Bezuidenhout (South Africa)    70

     S.S.P. Chawrasia (India)                  70

     Jens Dantorp (Sweden)                     70

     Louis De Jager (South Africa)             70

     Chris Doak (Scotland)                     70

     Paul Dunne (Republic of Ireland)          70

     Pedro Figueiredo (Portugal)               70

     Ross Fisher (England)                     70

     Ryan Fox (New Zealand)                    70

     Stephen Gallacher (Scotland)              70

     Ricardo Gouveia (Portugal)                70

     Justin Harding (South Africa)             70

     Tyrrell Hatton (England)                  70

     Scott Jamieson (Scotland)                 70

     Liam Johnston (Scotland)                  70

     Robert Karlsson (Sweden)                  70

     Kevin Kisner (USA)                        70

     Søren Kjeldsen (Denmark)                  70

     Russell Knox (Scotland)                   70

     Niklas Lemke (Sweden)                     70

     Jake McLeod (Australia)                   70

     Jordan L Smith (England)                  70

     Matthew Southgate (England)               70

     Lee Westwood (England)                    70

     Ashun Wu (China PR)                       70

  0  Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand)           71

     Sam Brazel (Australia)                    71

     Ben Evans (England)                       71

     Rickie Fowler (USA)                       71

     Joachim B. Hansen (Denmark)               71

     Scott Henry (Scotland)                    71

     David Howell (England)                    71

     Maximilian Kieffer (Germany)              71

     Marcus Kinhult (Sweden)                   71

     Alexander Levy (France)                   71

     Yusaku Miyazato (Japan)                   71

     Wade Ormsby (Australia)                   71

     C.T. Pan (China PR)                       71

     Tapio Pulkkanen (Finland)                 71

     Kristoffer Reitan (Norway)                71

     Robert Rock (England)                     71

     Shubhankar Sharma (India)                 71

     Chris Wood (England)                      71

  1  Kris Nicol (Scotland)                     72

     Aaron Rai (England)                       72

  2  Thomas Bjorn (Denmark)                    73

     Steven Brown (England)                    73

     Bradley Dredge (Wales)                    73

     Paul Lawrie (Scotland)                    73

     HaoTong Li (China PR)                     73

     Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)        73

     Hyo-Won Park (Korea Republic)             73

     Matthieu Pavon (France)                   73

     Clément Sordet (France)                   73

     Jimmy Walker (USA)                        73

  3  Scott Hend (Australia)                    74

     Joakim Lagergren (Sweden)                 74

     Richard McEvoy (England)                  74

  4  Sam Horsfield (England)                   75

     Jaco Van Zyl (South Africa)               75

  6  Gaganjeet Bhullar (India)                 77

     Kim Koivu (Finland)                       77

     David Law (Scotland)                      77

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