Englishman David Griffiths produced a wonderful finish to fire an outstanding first round of six under par 66 at the Donnington Grove Computacenter English Challenge Open and take a one shot lead from his fellow countrymen Mathew King and Graeme Storm.
Griffiths was hovering around the top of the leaderboard on three under before he put together a fantastic finish of three birdies on the spin to assume the outright lead at the Donnington Grove country Club. His birdie three at the 16th produced one of the shots of the day after he had driven his ball into the left hand rough among some staked trees. He took a free drop from the trees and then smashed an eight iron to within two feet of the cup for a tap-in birdie.
On the par three 17th, the 24 year old planted a beautiful five iron to 12 feet and rolled in the putt and did the same again on the last to post a brilliant opening 66 and keep his hopes of making it to the Bouygues Telecom Grand Final next weekend.
“I just got the putts going today,” said Griffiths, “I though the greens were excellent and it was nice to take advantage of that. The whole course is impressive actually, I’d say it was the best I have played for a while.”
Griffiths is currently 59th on the Challenge Tour Rankings having played just seven events on the 2004 Schedule after beginning his year playing in the USA. He is hoping to finish strongly at the Donnington Grove Country Club to secure a place in the top 45 ahead of next week’s showdown at the Golf du Médoc in Bordeaux, where the top 15 players on the Rankings will step up to the 2005 European Tour International Schedule.
“It’s been a bit of a mad dash for me since the Ryder Cup Wales Challenge. I came over from America and qualified for The Open one week, won a EuroPro Tour event the next, and then finished sixth in Wales. Since then I have managed to creep into the top 80 on the Rankings to secure a place on the Challenge Tour next season, so now I am hoping for a top five finish here to get into the top 45.”
King started from where he left off last week in Morocco at the Attijari Wafa – Tikida Beach Moroccan Classic. The 29 year old set Challenge Tour history at the Golf du Soleil by playing the back nine in just 27 shots, and he was out in five under 31 at the Donnington Grove Country Club.
Currently 11th on the Rankings with €54,603, King has almost secured his place in the top 15, but one more good finish boost to his earnings would make him safe. He went about doing that the right way during a first round that included seven birdies and a double bogey.
“I was thinking a bit about Marocco after nine holes today because I was 13 under for my last 18 holes at that point,” laughed King, “but then I put it out of bounds at the tenth and that brought me back to earth. I managed to get those two shots back at 11 and 12 so I am pleased with that opening.
“I’m playing with the mindset that I am not safe at the moment in terms of the Rankings, but you have to try and be boring and just take one shot at a time because you just put too much pressure on yourself and that isn’t going to help you.”
While King was setting the lowest nine hole total in Challenge Tour history last weekend, Storm was winning the title to secure his second win of the 2004 Challenge Tour season and propel himself to third place on the Rankings. The 26 year old brought that form back to his native England to open with a five under 67 at Donnington to join King one shot behind Griffiths.
“That’s a good start considering that I am not swinging the club all that great at the moment. I putted well today, though, and it was good to get a few birdies on the card after being one over after four.”
There is a four way tie four fourth place between Sweden’s Oskar Bergman, Welshman Garry Houston, Spain’s Carl Suneson and Shaun Webster of England at four under par on the Donnington Grove Computacenter English Challenge Open leaderboard, with five players a further shot back.
There are six players to complete their first rounds after play for the first round was suspended due to bad light.