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Thursday, 09 August 2001
Four players from different nationalities share the lead after the first round of the Talma Finnish Challenge near Helsinki. Ian Hutchings from South Africa, England’s Ben Mason, Frenchman Nicolas Joakimides and Mårten Olander from Sweden all carded four under par 68.

They are a shot clear of the field on a breezy day when just 40 of the 156-strong field bettered par.

Hutchings, had six birdies and a double-bogey in his 68, taking six at the par four 11th after his drive struck a tree. “I’ve been working hard on my putting,” he said. “I went back home to South Africa last week and worked for three days with a friend who had a driving range. He videod me and I found I was moving all over the place.”

Mason wasn't able to play a practise round but he didn't let it upset him. "I arrived too late on Tuesday and with Wednesday taken up by the pro-am, I didn't get a practice round," he said. "I did manage to walk the course but my putting was the key today. I holed out really well and sank a lot inside 15 feet, but I was disappointed to take bogey at two of the par fives."

Joakimides carded five birdies and one bogey in his 68, four of them in a back nine of 32 after going out in 36.

Olander was the only one of the top four not to drop a shot. He had four birdies, three on his back nine after starting from the 10th. “My goal today was to have a bogey-free round,” he said. “I wanted to play simply and hopefully hole a few putts. I like the greens here. They are good and the ball runs true.”

Mikko Ilonen drew the largest crowd. The former Amateur champion from Finland is playing his first professional event in his homeland and finished with a one over par 73.

The first day was also marked by several withdrawals or retirements through injury. Peter Lawrie, the lone entrant from Ireland, pulled out with a sore neck after shooting 79, while Gary Birch Junior didn’t even get that far.

He retired with a bad back after reaching the turn in 43, while Frenchman Marc Pendaries didn’t even start his first round. He also has a bad back and pulled out before going for treatment.

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