Downie on the up

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The Scotland international David Downie recorded that rarest of golfing birds - an albatross two - in a four-under-par round of 68, equalling the amateur course record, at the start of the 100th Amateur Championship at Wallasey yesterday.

Downie, 22, the winner of the Scottish strokeplay title last year and a Walker Cup squad member, was entitled to view the first of the two qualifying rounds - one at Wallasey, one at Hoylake - with some trepidation after missing every half-way cut on the amateur circuit this season. But he reduced the downwind 487-yard 14th to a drive and eight-iron and watched as the ball curled round into the hole.

Another happy man was the defending champion, Lee James. He too feared the worst going into the event, but shot a two-under-par 70. A week ago the 22-year-old from Dorset, who partnered Jack Nicklaus at the US Masters in April, was told by his coach he needed to make drastic changes to his swing.

"My form recently has been dreadful - I couldn't have played any worse," he said. "My backswing, the start of my downswing and my action through the ball all needed working on. And I had to move the ball further forward in my stance, too."

James reckoned that he would have been lucky to break 80 in his two practice rounds this weekend, but when it mattered he came good, not making a mistake until he missed a two-foot putt for a bogey six on the long 13th. A repeat performance at Hoylake today will see him safely among those who go through to the matchplay stages - but that is no formality.

The Royal Liverpool links, where the Amateur began in 1885, saw much higher scores yesterday, with Ulster's 1985 Amateur champion, Garth McGimpsey, returning a six-over-par 78. The Berkshire Trophy winner, Gary Harris, from Swindon, hit a 76 and Scotland's Gordon Sherry, runner-up to James at Nairn last year, had a 75.