By Pete Hall
LONDON (Reuters) - Finland’s Mikko Ilonen held a two-shot lead after the first round of the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, with Rickie Fowler impressive in his return to the tournament on Thursday.
For those who have not already won a place, three spots in next week’s Open Championship are up for grabs with a top 10 finish in Ayrshire, and Ilonen vastly improved his chances of competing at Royal Birkdale, recording birdies in five of his final eight holes for a seven-under-par round of 65.
World number 10 Fowler won this tournament in 2015 but missed it last year because of other commitments. He looked in fine fettle, carding a five-under-par round of 67 to sit tied for second.
Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut at last week’s Irish Open, continued to falter in the first round at Dundonald Links, posting a two-over-par 74. The Northern Irishman found himself four over par after four holes but fought back to give himself a chance of making the cut.
Englishman Callum Shinkwin was third off the tee in windy conditions, but he managed to also shoot a round of 67 to hold the early lead in the clubhouse.
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Shinkwin was soon joined by some illustrious company at the top of the leaderboard as Fowler finished with three birdies in his final seven holes put him in contention.
"It is a lot of fun to be back at the Scottish Open," Fowler told Sky Sports. "Unfortunately I had to miss it last year with the schedule, and the Olympics being part of the summer over here – it just didn’t allow me to play.
"It is a great way for me to come out and get ready for the Open, but it is also somewhere I know I can play well.”
World number 85 Ian Poulter joined the then leaders on five under par. Then Australian Andrew Dodt briefly took the lead outright after 14 holes but found himself in trouble down the 15th, bogeying that hole and carding one over on the 16th.
An excellent putt at the 18th put him five under and part of the crowd tied for second. American Paul Peterson and veteran Padraig Harrington joined the group late in the day.
(Reporting by Pete Hall, editing by Larry King)