Francesco Molinari took advantage of calm conditions to shoot a flawless 10-under 62 at the Scottish Open on Thursday, taking a three-stroke lead midway through a low-scoring first round of the British Open warm-up event.
The Italian Ryder Cup player rolled in 10 birdies on a still, dry morning at the Castle Stuart links course to match the previous best round in the tournament's 40-year history, set by Paul Curry in 1992 when he shot a 60 at the par-70 Gleneagles.
Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark was also bogey free to lead the chasing pack on 7 under, with top-ranked Luke Donald two shots further back in the defense of his title despite a sloppy finish to his round of 67.
Molinari continued his form from last week's French Open, where he made nine birdies in his final 17 holes to close with a 64 and finish second behind Marcel Siem. All of his birdies on Thursday came on the first 15 holes - starting on the back nine - meaning he has posted 19 birdies in the last 32 holes he has played.
''It's fantastic to have two rounds like this and in Paris one after the other,'' said Molinari. ''I hope to continue this form a bit longer, not just for the (British) Open next week but for the Ryder Cup (in September).''
He made four straight birdies on holes 3-6 to give himself a chance of shooting the European Tour's first ever 59. However, he finished with three pars.
''I realized on the seventh (that he was on for a 59) but Nos. 7 and 8 aren't great birdie chances so I was happy with three pars there,'' he said.
The lack of wind meant the course, which hugs the Moray Firth stretch of water in northern Scotland, was there for the taking. The conditions couldn't have been more different to 12 months ago, when the event was reduced to 54 holes after torrential rain and thunder storms caused landslides on two holes.
Donald, who won last year with a score of 19 under over three rounds, picked up where he left off to sit 7 under after 13 holes. But he fluffed a short chip beside the fifth green to make bogey and also dropped a shot on No. 8 - his 17th hole.
''The fifth hole halted the momentum but I'm pretty satisfied after being away for three weeks and coming back to find my form so early on,'' said Donald, who is celebrating a 52nd week as No. 1. ''I was just a smidgeon off today but I'm very close to being where I want to be.''
Pablo Larrazabal of Spain was also in the clubhouse alongside Donald on 5 under, a stroke behind Robert Coles and Shane Lowry.
Andrew Johnston of England added his name to the growing band of players to make a hole-in-one when he knocked in an 8 iron from 167 yards on No. 11.
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen both shot a 69, while Ernie Els made 70 despite taking four shots in the bunker in compiling a double-bogey 7 at No. 6.
Phil Mickelson was among the afternoon starters and one of 156 players using the tournament for some links preparation ahead of next week's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's.