INVERNESS, Scotland – Francesco Molinari tied the best round in the Scottish Open's 40-year history, shooting a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-shot lead into the second day of the British Open warm-up tournament.
The Italian rolled in 10 birdies in his first 15 holes in calm early conditions on the Castle Stuart links course, but missed out a chance to shoot the first 59 on the European Tour by finishing with three straight pars.
"I know it's not going to last for much longer," he said. "I'll just try to enjoy the moment."
Top-ranked Luke Donald looked set to finish close behind Molinari until he bogeyed two of his last five holes for a 67. Alejandro Canizares of Spain was second after a 64, with Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and Raphael Jacquelin of France another shot behind.
Phil Mickelson had a 73 on a day he was supposed to be at the Vatican with his wife and daughter. He cut short his vacation to get more practice ahead of the British Open.
Links courses have never been Molinari's friends. Only once in eight years as a professional has he made the weekend at a British Open, while his first round on links - as an amateur 11 years ago - will stay with him forever.
"I was living at St. Andrews and it was really windy and I shot 89 on The Old Course," said Molinari, noting he avoided a 90 with a birdie on the last hole. "I saw a different kind of golf than I had seen before."
He made five straight birdies from Nos. 5 to 9 and matched the tournament record set by Paul Curry, who shot 10 under in 1992 when the event was staged at the par-70 Gleneagles.
"The roll I'm getting off the putter is much better and I just feel more confident on the greens," said Molinari, who is in line to claim a spot in Europe's Ryder Cup team for September's match against the United States. "Putting is the difference in my scores."
Molinari dedicated his strong start to his brother Edoardo, who is rehabilitating after surgery on his left wrist two weeks ago.
Donald is defending the title he won here at last year's weather-disrupted tournament, which was reduced to 54 holes because of thunder storms and torrential rain.
Playing after a three-week break, he quickly hit his stride with six birdies in seven holes around the turn. However, he fluffed a short chip beside the fifth green to make bogey and also dropped a shot on No. 8 - his 17th hole.
"Usually you're pretty happy with 67, but I'm five back already," Donald said. "But it was a good, solid round for me. It was perfect, ideal scoring conditions."
With the British Open taking place on the links at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's next week, Donald said he wouldn't object to conditions worsening over the next few days.
"I wouldn't mind a bit of wind just to get in that feel for next week. It's doubtful we'll have calm days like this," he said.
Mickelson finished runner-up to Darren Clarke at the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George's.
"I added this week because I need to play a little bit more, and I'm hoping to get a good round tomorrow so that I can play the weekend."
Mickelson missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic last week. That came after a 65th-place finish at the U.S. Open in San Francisco and a withdrawal after a first-round 79 at the Memorial Tournament in his only events in June.
"My oldest daughter is really big into Greek and Roman history, so we have been over in Rome. They were at the Vatican today. I was supposed to stay with them until Friday, but I needed this," Mickelson said. "I'm not just throwing one or two shots away on the golf course, I'm throwing away four, five or six. So I've got to try to get that resolved."
Former No. 1 Martin Kaymer was among a bunch of players to shoot 67 along with Donald, while three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen signed for 69s.
Ernie Els needed four shots in a greenside bunker, and it nearly got worse when the South African was reported by an eagle-eyed TV viewer for a possible breach of rules.
The two-time U.S. Open champion was confronted by senior referee Andy McFee after his opening round of 70. He was told that a viewer thought Els grounded his club in the bunker on the sixth hole. Footage was reviewed, but Els wasn't handed a two-shot penalty.
"I was doing some bunker practice for the (British) Open next week," he said. "I was slightly embarrassed out there."
Els also made a double-bogey 6 on the 15th — his sixth hole after starting at No. 10 — but seven birdies allowed him to sign for 2 under, eight shots off the lead.