England’s Andrew Butterfield smashed the course record with a round of 62 to open up a three-stroke lead on the opening day of The Princess, the new €300,000 Challenge Tour event which Henrik Stenson is supporting.
Seven birdies and an eagle in a flawless round at Båstad GK in Båstad, Sweden, shot Butterfield to nine under par, leaving Wales’ Sion E Bebb and local favourite Fredrik Andersson Hed his nearest challengers on six under.
The 62 was not his lowest round – he signed for a 60 in the 2005 Open de Mahou de Madrid – but with a stiff breeze making for some testing playing conditions, Butterfield believes this was his finest hour.
He said: “I just played lovely all day. I can’t remember missing a fairway, and I hardly missed any putts either. So it’s definitely been a while since I played that well. The 60 I shot in Madrid was obviously pretty special, but the course there wasn’t playing as tough as this. The wind out there certainly makes you focus quite hard, but if it’s behind you and you find the fairway, you’re not hitting much more than a wedge into most greens, which makes life a lot easier. On the par five fifth hole, which is about 530 yards long, I hit a three wood off the tee and a six iron with my approach to about five feet, then rolled in the putt. And I’m not a big hitter by any means!
“Probably the key was my putting, because that’s what let me down in St Omer last week. I adjusted my alignment slightly, and it seemed to do the trick. I found the greens here also easier to read, probably because they’re quite similar to the ones I play on at home. But whilst it was a great day today and I’m going to enjoy the moment, tomorrow could be a completely different story. When I wake up in the morning, it’ll almost be like today never happened. If the wind switches, it could play like a completely different course. So I’ll try to forget about today, and re-focus on the job in hand.”
Welshman Bebb revealed he had used his last shot at the SAINT-OMER OPEN by Neuflize OBC – a missed putt from no more than two feet – as motivation in his round of 65.
Bebb took advantage of more benign morning conditions to post eight birdies – with five of them coming in succession from the fourth hole.
He said: “Obviously I would’ve taken a 65 at the start of play, although a bogey on the last always leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth. But overall I played very well, particularly on the front nine, which is probably playing a little easier than the back nine. It’s important to make your birdies on the front nine, then just hold on. I don’t think any of my birdie putts on the front nine were from more than six feet, so I was able to put it pretty close, because the pins were fairly accessible. But if the wind picks up and they start tucking the pins away, life’s going to get a lot tougher.
“I knew my game was in good shape coming into the week, because of the way I played in Saint Omer last week. If I had holed a two foot putt on the last hole I would’ve finished tied second instead of seventh, so I stewed over that for a while. I probably would’ve made the putt 99 times out of 100, so it was very frustrating. But hopefully I can make amends this week. It’s a big tournament, so if I can have another decent finish here to add to last week’s, then I can press on and try to get my main Tour card back.”
Fredrik Andersson Hed has also set his sights on regaining his European Tour playing privileges after continuing to show encouraging signs of a return to form.
The Swede, who had his father Jan-Christer on his bag, picked up shots on his opening two holes and, despite a dropped shot at the third, added a further five birdies to join Bebb in a share of third place on six under par.
Andersson Hed said: “I played a tournament at this course 16 years ago and won by 15 shots, so I’ve got good memories of the place! I believe they’re using the same trophy this week, so I’ve already got my hands on it once – but I’d like to do it again this week!
“I’ve been playing pretty well lately, so if I can keep it up, I’ll have a good chance. I only live about half an hour away, so I’m staying at home this week and I have my wife and children watching me, which is nice. I’ve also got my Dad caddying for me, so it’s a bit of a family affair. He doesn’t say anything if I hit a bad shot – only if I get too angry! But that didn’t happen today, so we got on well.
“It’s great that we’ve got a Challenge Tour event in Sweden, and it’s also great that Henrik is supporting the tournament. I know him very well – he’s a bit younger than me, so we didn’t play much amateur golf together. But we’ve played a lot on the Challenge Tour and The European Tour, and he’s a great player and a good guy. I watched him win The Players Championship, and he played incredibly. If I can do half as well as him, I’ll be happy!”
Earlier in the day, Wales’ Liam Bond joined home hope Per Barth, Australian Tony Carolan, England’s Robert Coles, Spaniard Carlos Rodiles and South African Ulrich Van Den Berg in a tie for fourth place on five under par.
By his own admission Bond has struggled for consistency this season, but a round of 66 was confirmation that he was finally moving in the right direction again.
“I’ve played fairly well lately, but haven’t got out of the rounds what I should have,” he said. “Today, I probably played much the same way I did in the past few weeks, but the key difference was that a few putts dropped. So in a way, my season starts now. I could do with a big week to kickstart my season, because I’ve had a slow start to the season. But at least things are looking up a bit now.”
The future also looks brighter for Zane Scotland, who spent several months on the sidelines after injuring his wrist in the 2008 BMW International Open, which he played having just recovered fully from a serious car accident.
Scotland recently rejoined The European Tour under a medical exemption, but admits he put too much pressure on himself to make the most of his limited opportunities.
But the man from Manchester, who will now focus his efforts exclusively on the Challenge Tour for the remainder of the season, showed what he was capable of with a round of 67.
He said: “The wrist feels fine now, and I’m just happy to be playing again. Probably the mental scars took longer to heal than the physical ones, because whilst the wrist had healed, I still wasn’t prepared to fully commit to shots – especially out of the rough – in case it went again. But now that I’ve got over that barrier, hopefully I can get back to where I was.”