Noren leads Links charge in Carnoustie birdie barrage
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Sweden's Alex Noren is targeting a third European Tour title of the season after setting a blistering pace on day one of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Noren, who won the Scottish Open in July and the European Masters last month, carded a flawless 64 at Carnoustie to equal the course record on what is traditionally the toughest of the three venues used for the pro-am event.
At eight-under par, the 34-year-old enjoys a one-shot lead over England's Ross Fisher, who carded a 65 at Kingsbarns, with Joakim Lagergren and Matt Ford a shot further back after rounds of 66 at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns respectively.
Starting from the 10th, Noren birdied three of his first five holes to reach the turn in 33, before picking up further shots on the first, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth.
"It was tough conditions but probably one of the best rounds I've played, so I'm very happy right now," Noren said. "All three courses are in probably the best shape I've ever seen them.
"I like Carnoustie but I've never shot lower than maybe 71 here. I didn't expect much but it went better than I expected. I played pretty steady all day. Made my pars where I needed to and I was never in really bad trouble, and then the putter worked fantastic."
Ford is currently ranked 138th on the Race to Dubai and in need of some good results to move into the top 110 and retain his card, a feat he managed last season by finishing seventh in the final event in Hong Kong.
"I think you would be inhuman to not know the scenario and not know what you need," said the 38-year-old, who was ready to accept a winter job as a postman before securing his card via the qualifying school at the 10th attempt in 2014.
"It plays on your mind, of course it does, but it's just about trying to deal with it as best as you can. I probably didn't deal with it that well until the last week of the season last year, so I've been trying my hardest to make sure I can do something before that.
"For whatever reason, it has not worked out so far, so I've been giving it my best to have a good week this week."
Six of Europe's beaten Ryder Cup team made the journey from Hazeltine to Scotland, with Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Matt Fitzpatrick all in action at Carnoustie.
Pieters and Cabrera Bello, who enjoyed successful debuts despite the 17-11 defeat, fared best with rounds of 70, with Kaymer returning a 71, Willett shooting 73, Westwood recording a 75 and Fitzpatrick struggling to a 77.
"It's great to be back, everybody is on my side here," said Pieters, who set a record for a European rookie with four points from his five matches. "It's nice.
"I had an interesting start. I'm still very tired mentally. Started off with a drive, then shanked my four iron and got up and down from a hundred yards. It was a weird way to open the championship, but from then on pretty solid.
"The next two days are going to be a little easier I think. You can get away with some shots on the next two courses."
Michael Hoey is best of the Irish on three-under, while Pádraig Harrington carded a two-under 70 on his return to Carnoustie. Paul McGinley, Paul Dunne and Shane Lowry are on level-par.