Edoardo Molinari will gladly swap a holiday on the beaches of Portofino for a week in Portrush if it means competing alongside younger brother Francesco as he defends his Open title.
Three places in the year’s final major are up for grabs for players who finish in the top 10 at the ASI Scottish Open and Edoardo occupies one of them after an opening 63 on a day of incredibly low scoring at The Renaissance Club.
At eight under par Molinari shared the lead with Matt Kuchar, Romain Wattel and Nino Bertasio, although 53 players shot four under par or better and level par was only good enough for 119th place in the 156-man field.
“I was very close to qualifying for the Open last week, I only missed by a couple of shots in the end,” 2010 Scottish Open champion Molinari said after a round containing two eagles, five birdies and a solitary bogey.
“It would obviously be special to be there when Francesco is the defending champion. That would be a great thing. But I’m not planning on going if I don’t make it in. I’ve planned a summer holiday with my wife and two kids, so I definitely won’t go.
“If I’m not at Portrush I will be lying on the beach in Portofino, although I’ll definitely watch some golf in the evenings, over the weekend, certainly.”
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 Rory 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.”