Foster leads by one as fog and wasps interfere with play at Johnnie Walker

fog at gleneagles
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The thick fog made it difficult for the early-morning starters to see past the 50-yard marker on the range as they warmed up.
Associated Press and PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011 | 6:46 p.m.

England's Mark Foster shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to lead the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Championship after an incomplete first round full of fog and swarming wasps.

The start was delayed by 2 hours, 40 minutes because of reduced visibility, and 51 players will have to complete their first round early Friday.

Foster held a one-shot lead over Spain's Ignacio Garrido and Argentina's Tano Goya.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, Ireland's Peter Lawrie and Chile's Felipe Aguilar were 4 under.

Playing only his second tournament in seven weeks, Foster picked up seven shots in his opening 11 holes -- including four in a row from No. 11 -- before a couple of bogeys on his back nine.

Foster has held the lead, or a share of the lead, on the final day of three tournaments this season -- the Alstom French Open, the BMW International Open and the Barclays Scottish Open -- but failed to break a long title drought that stretches back to 2003.

 However, he quickly mastered the greens on the PGA Centenary Course that will host the Ryder Cup in 2014, putting himself in a great early position.

“That could have been a special first nine holes because I three-putted the par-5 No. 16,” said Foster, who is likely to make the Britain & Ireland team for next month’s Vivendi Seve Trophy in Paris.

“I just have a bit more belief in myself this year. It sounds strange, but I have stopped trying to win,” he explained. “I’ve stopped pitching up on a Tuesday thinking about winning -- I just do my best for the week.”

The fog wasn’t the only hindrance to the field. Foster and compatriot Ross Fisher both said swarms of wasps were causing additional problems for players.

“Two of the three in our group had to back off before every shot,” he said. “One wasp was on my ball on my birdie putt on No. 12. I hit it anyway.”

Garrido, playing in the group in front of Foster and also starting at No. 10, made six birdies in a solid round to lie a stroke ahead of Ireland’s Peter Lawrie, who was on his own in third place on 4 under.

Italy’s Francesco Molinari -- at No. 22, the highest-ranked player in the 156-man field -- was among a large group on 2 under. His older brother, Edoardo Molinari, was among the afternoon starters as he began the defense of his title.

Fisher, who along with the Molinari brothers is the other 2010 Ryder Cup star competing, had one of the more eventful rounds of the day. Hindered by a triple-bogey 8 at the long No. 16, Fisher -- who started at No. 10 -- turned in 40 but came home in 31 to finish on 1 under.

“I played one bad shot all round but I was 5 over after seven holes,” said the 31-year-old Englishman. “If you’d have told me on No. 17 that I’d shoot 1 under, I’d have thought you were having a laugh.”

England’s Nick Dougherty, at one time regarded among the brightest hopes in British golf, is bidding to make the cut for the first time in 21 events but a quadruple-bogey 7 at the short No. 6 didn’t help his cause after a good start. Dougherty, who is yet to make any money from golf this season and is in danger of losing his European Tour playing rights, finished on 4 over -- 10 shots off the pace.

Foster is hoping to seal a return to team golf in real style this weekend, 16 years after his unbeaten part in sending Tiger Woods to defeat in the Walker Cup. Although his only European Tour victory was eight years ago, this season is shaping up to be easily the best yet for the 36-year-old from Worksop -- a town best known in the sport as Lee Westwood's home.

He is on course to earn a place in Britain and Ireland's team in the Vivendi Seve Trophy match for the first time.

"I've been trying hard all year to make it, and if it comes around it will be a massive thing for me," he said of next month's match against Continental Europe in Paris. Coincidentally, Foster, a former English Amateur champion, played with his old Walker Cup partner David Howell.

Foster had chances to win both the BMW International and French Open this summer, but after leading with a round to go both times had to be content with finishing third one week and then tied for second the next. Neither affected him as badly as last year's Spanish Open, however, when he was three clear and then lost by one after missing three-foot putts on the 16th and 18th.

"I learned a lot from that," he said. "I would say I lost that tournament through nerves really, just not controlling myself. But I think it took that week for me to be able to play the way I've been playing at the moment, where I have more belief in myself and know I can do it. I think I'm a better person and a better player."