Friday, 19 March 2010
Four players share the lead on five-under-par 67 after the opening round of the First Cuba Grand Final at Varadero. The quartet - Stephen Scahill from New Zealand, Argentina's Gustavo Rojas, Markus Brier from Austria, and Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara - are two strokes clear of three players on 69.

On a day when a stiff but balmy wind buffeted the exposed links, many felt that 67 was a miracle. But it took nerve and solid striking to eke out a score when others found their hopes being blown apart before they had really started.

Scahill, making his first visit to the Caribbean, had five birdies and no bogeys, as did Rojas, who lost a playoff to Iain Pyman for the Challenge De France Bayer in Paris two weeks ago.

Lara had seven birdies and two bogeys but Brier started his round explosively with an albatross, holing a three-iron from around 250 yards for a two. He was so excited he three-putted the second for a bogey but then settled down to return a splendid 67 to join the others at the top of the leaderboard.

"I have never had an albatross before," he said. "But the shot was bang on target and someone behind the green was pointing downwards. There was only one place it could be and that was in the hole."

Among the trio on 69 is Matthew Blackey, from Hampshire, who had in his bag the ideal weapon for exploiting the tricky conditions. It is a Rescue club, something between a long iron and a five-wood, from Taylor Made.

"It is ideal round here because it keeps the ball low and under the wind," said the 28 year old, who was out in 32 and got to five under before dropping two shots in his closing four holes. "It was real tough in the wind while all the par-threes are long. I hit two three-woods and three three-irons into them."

Joining him are Swedes, Niclas Fasth and Pehr Magnebrant, while six more players are locked on 70 including Irishman David Higgins who relished the wind he is so familiar with at home in Waterville. He had an eagle and five birdies and said: "I'm pleased with that. It's hard out there but I'm used to winds like this although they are a little colder in Waterville."

For the rest it was mostly a case of keeping out of trouble in the wind. Among those who suffered was Iain Pyman, who needs to win this week to overtake the absent Carl Suneson for top spot on the ranking.

But after carding a 76 he dismissed his chances. "There's no chance I can win this week now," he said, although he started with the same score in the Challenge de France Bayer and went on to pip Rojas in the playoff.

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Tournament Leaderboard

PosPlayer NameNatHolePar
1SCAHILL, StephenNZL18-11
T2LARA, José ManuelESP18-9
T2STENSON, HenrikSWE18-9
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