Parry in late dash to snatch final spot at Open

John Parry equalled his lowest round on the European Tour yesterday to take the lead in the Scottish Open and give himself a realistic shot at snatching a last-gasp place at Muirfield.

John Parry

One final spot is available in next week’s Open for the man who wins at Castle Stuart and Parry put himself in a position to challenge for that honour with a blistering 64 yesterday morning.

His eight-under-par total was good enough for the outright lead by one from Simon Khan, with four-time major winner Phil Mickelson among the chasing pack on six under.

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Parry, 26, began the week with a place in the Open his No 1 target, having revelled in the experience of a major debut at the US Open last month.

The Harrogate golfer sealed his spot at Merion in the qualifier at Walton Heath and then put together four commendable rounds in Pennsylvania to finish 28th.

Since then Parry has posted a top-10 finish in Germany and then missed out on a route into the Open at international final qualifying by just one shot.

Now yesterday’s bogey-free round has given him one last chance to gatecrash the Open party.

“The US Open has been the catalyst for playing better,” said Parry.

“It’s renowned as the toughest event you can play and if you can compete in that you can compete in any event.

“All the confidence in my game that I gained at the US Open came flooding back (yesterday).

“My main goal this week has got to be clinching the last spot to play in the Open next week. Shooting an opening round like that has given me the chance to get it.”

Parry began with four birdies in the opening six holes and was five under at the turn.

Khan joined him at the top of the leaderboard on seven under with an eagle on the par five 18th before Parry responded with a birdie of his own – having missed his first fairway of the day – to regain the initiative.

“It was a great feeling, if something of a shock, to find myself at the top of the leaderboard,” he admitted.

“In windless conditions I fully expected to get caught after the start I made but as the round went on, and as I compiled a stack of eight birdies, my name stayed up there.

“I could have even shot lower because after opening with two birdies I missed two good chances on the third and fourth greens.

“The quality of my golf was best summed up by the fact that I only missed one fairway.”

Parry is very much a confidence player and it is clear the juices are flowing for him at present.

He is also a strong frontrunner, as he showed last November when he took the lead early at qualifying school and built on it, despite the six-round marathon being one of the most pressurised situations in the sport.

Sheffield’s Danny Willett also impressed in Scotland with an opening-round 68, two shots better off than Malton’s Simon Dyson. Hull’s Richard Finch opened with a 72.

American Mickelson hailed his opening 66 as the perfect preparation for the “punishment” which lies ahead in next week’s Open.

On the day that Graeme McDowell apologised for saying the event had lost its prestige by moving to a “one-dimensional” course which was not “strong enough” to host an event directly before a major, 117 of the 156-strong field at Castle Stuart broke par.

“It was a good start,” said Mickelson, who missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic last week on his first appearance since a record sixth runners-up finish in the 
US Open last month. “We had perfect conditions the first 14 or 15 holes and there are opportunities on this course to make birdies and eagles. It’s an above-average round but there were opportunities to pick up three or four shots that I let go so I have to get a little sharper.

“There was a good chance to go low but it’s great for me to get off to a decent start because historically I have gotten off to poor starts the last couple of years here and I’ve been fighting just to make the cut and get into reasonable contention.

“Now getting off to good start I’m not having to battle uphill. I’m able to move up the leaderboard if I play well.

“I think the best way to get ready for next week is to get into contention and to feel that nervousness and those butterflies and try to win. When I won the Masters in 2006 I won the week before in Atlanta by 13 shots and I thought that couldn’t have been a better way to get ready.

“The reason I love playing this week before next week is that it gives me an opportunity to hit all the shots I’ll play next week, all the bump and run shots, the chips around the greens, putts off the green, and yet it doesn’t beat you up and it doesn’t punish you the way we’ll get punished next week. You can only handle so much of that.”

Mickelson three-putted the 10th, his opening hole, and hit such a poor tee shot on the 11th that he exclaimed: “What in the world was that?”, but a brilliant bunker shot saved his par and an eagle from 15ft on the next soon followed. The world No 8 carded six further birdies and one bogey and added: “The first hole was a good wake-up call for links golf.”