IRVINE (Scotland) • Finland's Mikko Ilonen produced his lowest score in two years to set a tournament course record as Rory McIlroy continued to struggle on day one of the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links on Thursday.
Ilonen, 37, birdied three holes in succession mid-round in a bogey-free seven-under 65. That gave him a two-stroke lead in overcast and then rainy conditions on the Scottish west coast.
"A 65 is my round of the season," he said. "I'm not going to say it's been the whole season that's been pretty bad but certainly a good part of it has been pretty slow out there.
"So, it's nice to get something going and make a few birdies and no mistakes on the card."
Rickie Fowler was one of six players to share second place on five-under 67.
The American, contesting the event for the first time since winning in 2015 at Gullane, was joined by his compatriot Paul Peterson, Australia's Andrew Dodt, the English duo of Ian Poulter and Callum Shinkwin, and Padraig Harrington in giving chase to Ilonen.
McIlroy, however, had a bad day. He had crashed early to be four over after just four holes en route to an eventual two-over 74, which followed his failure to break par in the first two rounds before he missed the cut a week ago at the Irish Open.
BACK IN THE HUNT
I'm not going to say it's been the whole season that's been pretty bad but certainly a good part of it has been pretty slow out there.
MIKKO ILONEN, Finnish golfer, on his form revival.
The Northern Irishman did not speak to the media but Fowler, his playing partner for the first two days of the US$7 million (S$9.6 million) event, offered some comforting words.
"Rory didn't make the swings he wanted to today, but he did a great job of hanging in there and kept fighting," said Fowler.
"He's always been one of the best guys out here and it has been fun to build that relationship. He had a great week last week with his Foundation being involved with the Irish Open.
"So, he'll be fine. He's one of the best players in the world."
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, 10pm