WEST Kilbride’s Graham Fox recovered from a shaky start to post a one-under-par 70 in the opening round of his Scottish PGA Championship title defence over his home course.

Fox, who won five West Kilbride club championships in a row from the age of 14, shot three birdies in a row in Tuesday’s opening round to sit five shots behind early leader Alastair Forsyth.

The Arnold Clark Tartan Tour’s flagship event is returning to this wonderful links course for the first time since Eric Brown won his fourth Scottish PGA title on the Ayrshire coast back in 1960.

“There were some silly mistakes in there,” the reigning champion admitted after his first round, “but it’s not a disastrous score and we’re not too far away,”

Forsyth packed eight birdies into his six-under-par score to lead the first round by one shot from Gavin Hay and 2019 champion Paul O’Hara.

The two-time winner on the old European Tour won the Scottish PGA crown back in 2000, when his fledgling professional career was just taking off.

Here in 2022, the Mearns Castle pro is looking to roll back the years and bridge a sizeable title gap in the national championship.

“It’s nice to still be out here competing,” said Forsyth. “I won the Northern Open in 2019, 20 years after I first won it and it would be great to win the Scottish PGA again after 22 years. It’s early days but this was a good start.”

Forsyth made a telling early surge and a putt of some 30-feet on the second provided the catalyst for three birdies in a row.

Graham Fox

Graham Fox

His only dropped shots of the day arrived at the ninth and 13th while he finished with a flourish and rolled in a 20-footer for a birdie on the last to edge to the front.

“I’d missed a four-footer for a birdie on 17 so that one on the last softened the blow a bit,” added Forsyth, who is kept busy with a combination of competition and coaching.

“It’s a good mixture. I can be coaching five or six days a week at Mearns Castle. It can be hard to work on your own game when you’re helping others. I can go two or three weeks without hitting a ball.”

O’Hara, the dominant force on the Tartan Tour in recent years, manoeuvred himself into contention with a neatly-assembled 66 which started with three birdies on the trot from the first.

“I know this course inside out as I play it a lot and I would certainly have taken a 66 at the start of the day,” said O’Hara, who won the Scottish PGA title in 2019 and was runner-up in 2018, 2017 and 2016.

He was joined in a tie for second by Hay, who started his back-nine with a double-bogey on the 10th but then mounted a stirring recovery and came home in five-under en route to a spirited 66.

“I took the driver out on a few holes coming in and got rewarded,” said the East Renfrewshire pro of his rousing salvage operation.

Last year’s runner-up, Craig Lee, tucked himself into a share of fourth on 67 in a posse that includes the double Scottish PGA champion Gareth Wright and the reigning Scottish Young Professionals’ champion Graeme Robertson.

Speaking before the tournament teed off, Fox said: “I was asked by the PGA in Scotland to put some feelers out to see if the club would be interested. They were really up for it.

“Personally, it will be nice for me to defend a title on my home course.”