Francesco Molineri sets the pace at Scottish Open in Aberdeen
ITALIAN Francesco Molinari picked up where he left off on Sunday to set the early pace in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open today.
Nine under par for his last 17 holes of the French Open - he finished second to German Marcel Siem - Molinari was six under midway through his opening round at Castle Stuart near Inverness.
The course was there for the taking with soft conditions, wide fairways and only a gentle wind, but not everybody was taking advantage.
While world number one and defending champion Luke Donald was in second place at four under after 10 holes, Paul Casey's struggles continued as he managed only a four over 40 for the back nine.
Eight of those came at the long 12th, where Casey's first drive found the gorse on the right and then his next went into an unplayable lie down the left.
The former world number three has made only one halfway cut since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding on Christmas Eve and last week in Paris was joint last after back-to-back rounds of 80. Starting the front nine today he was next-to-last.
Dane Anders Hansen came off the blocks the quickest, four straight birdies and then another on the 336-yard 16th, his seventh, showing what was possible.
But he bogeyed the par five second, whereas Molinari - back in an automatic qualifying spot for the Ryder Cup - followed a two on the short 11th with five more birdies in a row from the 14th to turn in just 30 strokes.
Donald won last year with a closing 63 that was his best-ever score on the European Tour and he showed his liking for the lay-out again with birdies at the 12th, 16th, 17th.
That put him alongside not only Hansen, but also Italian teenager Matteo Manassero and Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen.
Padraig Harrington was among those only one further back, while Ernie Els was one under after an eventful back nine that contained four birdies, a bogey and a double bogey at the 423-yard 15th.
Molinari drove the green at the 306-yard third and two-putted for his seventh birdie, then hit his tee shot to four feet on the next.
He added yet another on eight under - that made it an incredible 17 under for his last 30 competitive holes - but Donald was only two back as he kicked off the front nine with three successive birdies to make it five in six holes.
Kjeldsen was one further back and even Casey's form picked up as he followed his four on the long 18th with two more birdies to recover to two over.
Molinari improved to 10 under on the long fifth and suddenly was four clear of the field, with Donald bogeying the 452-yard fifth when a chip failed to make it up a bank left of the green.
There were three holes left for the Italian and if he could birdie them all it would be the European Tour's first 59.
England's Andrew Johnston had a moment to remember, holing in one with an eight-iron at the 167-yard 11th and leaping to two under as a result.