Michael Hoey has Rory McIlroy in sight after stirring first round at Scottish Open

Rory McIlroy during day one of the  Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen
Rory McIlroy during day one of the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen

Michael Hoey’s superb run of good form continued on Thursday when he carded a five under par 66 to trail first round leader Rory McIlroy by two shots at the Scottish Open.

Buoyed by last week’s seventh place finish in France, which earned him a spot in next week’s Open Championship at Hoylake, Michael played the back nine at Royal Aberdeen in a remarkable 29 shots (six under).

“The back nine was down wind and it was much easier than the front nine today which was very difficult,” said the 35-year-old.

“At one stage I saw that Rory was four under after nine; that was very impressive.

“There was a few birdie chances on the back nine. I drove it on to 10 feet at the 15th and knocked it in for an eagle which helped a lot and I had two good swings on the last two holes to finish birdie/birdie for 29 which always helps but I didn’t play well on the front nine.

“As I said, it was really difficult with the wind off the left. I hit driver and a three iron into some of the par fours.”

Michael has already recorded five top 10 finishes this season and that new-found consistency is giving him confidence to be more aggressive on the course.

He added: “After nine I was thinking ‘just hold it together’, that level par would be pretty good but I took on a couple of risky plays on the back nine.

“I took driver at a couple of the pars fours and finished just short of the green a couple of times and got up and down for an eagle and a birdie which really helped my score.”

It was a great day all round for the Northern Ireland contingent in the field with McIlroy leading, Hoey tied for fourth, Darren Clarke carding a two under 69 and Gareth Maybin a one under 70.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson was satisfied with a typically entertaining opening round.

Mickelson carded an eagle, two birdies and one bogey for a three-under-par 68 at a windswept Royal Aberdeen, which left him four shots behind McIlroy.

After insisting he would relish the tough conditions which were forecast, the Open champion was as good as his word and fired an eagle on the par-five sixth and birdies on the 12th and 13th, the latter coming after a 98-yard wedge shot played off a cart path to within 10 feet of the hole.

The only blemish on the left-hander’s card was a three-putt bogey on the 18th, while he was also involved in a lengthy discussion with rules officials on the 10th when a gust of wind moved his ball while on his backswing.

That would previously have resulted in a penalty, but an exception to Rule 18-2b which came into effect in January 2012 “exonerates the player from penalty if his ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.”

“The conditions were tough and I was surprised to see some of those low scores,” Mickelson said after his round.

“But I feel like I played well and had a good putting day until the last. It’s a good first day.”

Mickelson won his first tournament on British soil at Castle Stuart 12 months ago and went on to win the Open Championship at the 20th attempt a week later at Muirfield.

The 44-year-old added: “I think Royal Aberdeen is a great links test and a great way to get ready for the British Open, but so was Castle Stuart.

“I love that the Scottish Open is moving to these different courses (expected to be Gullane in 2015 and back to Castle Stuart in 2016) to give a player like me a chance to see some great, great golf.”