World number one Luke Donald started his Scottish Open defence strongly at Castle Stuart in Inverness on Thursday with a five-under-par 67 as Italian Francesco Molinari's blistering course record set the pace.

A free-flowing Molinari hit a 10-under 62 to lead Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen (65) on seven-under, with Ireland's Shane Lowry and England's Robert Coles a stroke back.

Donald, in his 52nd week as the world's top-ranked golfer, was seven-under through 13 but bogeyed two of his final five holes.

“Usually I'm pretty happy with 67, but I'm five back already,” Donald told the European Tour website (

“But there were a lot of positives there after three weeks away from competition.”

Donald, chasing a first major title, is playing for the first time since last month's U.S. Open where he missed the cut.

Donald's playing partner and three-times major champion Ernie Els opened with a 70 while four-times major-winning American Phil Mickelson was among the later starters. – Reuters