Gustavo Rojas from Argentina carded a six under par 65 to lead after the first round of the Grand Final at Golf du Medoc in Bordeaux. On an overcast day with frequent showers, he leads by two strokes from a group of four players.
Rojas, the 35 year old from Buenos Aires, still believes he hasn’t guaranteed a return to The European Tour despite going into the tournament in 11th position on the ranking. But such a superb start should ease his anxiety in a week when the nerves really show.
“I still feel I have some work to do,” he said, “but I played good all day when all parts of my game were solid.”
He was out in 31, the best front nine of the day, with four birdies and added three more before dropping his only shot with three putts for a five at the 15th.
Three countries are represented in the quartet in second place on 67, Jesus Maria Arruti from Spain, England’s David Dixon, Massimo Florioli of Italy, and another Englishman, Iain Pyman.
Arruti, who must win the tournament to gain a card, ran in five birdies, but Dixon, also needing a victory, was involved in a rollercoaster round containing an eagle, seven birdies and five dropped shots.
"When you need to win you have to go for it. There no point in playing safe," he said.
Florioli, currently ranked 18th, had an eagle and three birdies in his 67. “I made a good start with two birdies in the first three holes but I bunkered my tee shot at the short fifth and missed from ten feet for par,” he said.
After going out in 34, he birdied the short 12th also from around ten feet then eagled the long 14th with a drive, three wood and five foot putt.
Pyman has already guaranteed his return to the top level after two victories and is safely in fourth place on the ranking, is feeling no pressure but it didn't help when he started with a bogey-five at the first after hitting his seven iron approach into a ditch.
However, he got back on track to be out in 35, while a run of three successive birdies from the tenth plus another at the 15th saw him home in 32.
"Considering I played rubbish I'm very happy," he said. "It was mainly my mid irons that were poor but I made a lot of saves, which you have to do when you are playing poorly."
In the race to finish No.1. on the Challenge Tour, Jean-Francois Lucquin had the best day. The young Frenchman is in a group on 68 despite finishing with a bogey five, while top-placed Lee James returned 72 and Matthew Blackey, currently third, posted a 73.
James, back in action after a ten-week lay-off through injury, felt happy with his play apart from his putting. “I putted horrendously,” he said. “From tee to green I was happy but I had 37 putts. However, after a long lay off I can’t expect too much.”
Blackey, who must win to stand a chance of overtaking his two rivals, was going well until he dropped four shots in the closing five holes.