Thursday, 21 October 2004
England’s Neil Cheetham stormed to the top of the leaderboard at the European Challenge Tour’s Bouygues Telecom Grand Final, carding an opening round of six under par 65 to take a one shot lead from his fellow countryman Mathew Morris in what was an excellent first round at the Golf du Médoc in Bordeaux.

One of the most nerve wracking weeks on the golfing calendar, the Challenge Tour Grand Final always takes the top 45 players on the Challenge Tour Rankings through the full gambit of emotions, and if the next three days are anything like the first round then we will be in for a fantastically thrilling finish on Sunday afternoon.

With a prize fund of €200,000, the Bougyues Telecom Grand Final carries a winners’ cheque of €34,250 which offers any of the 30 players outside the current top 15 the opportunity to leapfrog their way into the Challenge Tour’s elite.

There are battles developing all over the leaderboard, with current Challenge Tour Number Two Lee Slattery of England one shot ahead of Number One Alessandro Tadini of Italy after their opening rounds of 67 and 68 in Bordeaux.

Ariel Canete of Argentina and England’s Oliver Wilson – currently 14th and 13th on the Rankings – posted excellent rounds of three under par 68 as they bid to hold onto their positions within the top 15, but Englishman Sam Little, who occupies 15th on the Rankings got off to the worst imaginable start with an opening 80 to leave him much to do to retain his top 15 status.

Of those players knocking on the door, the Swedish duo of Peter Gustafsson and Mikael Lundberg – who are Ranked 19th and 20th – are respectively four and two under par after round one and will now be eyeing that 15th Card after Little’s disappointing beginning.

Frenchman Gregory Bourdy – buoyed by a groundswell of support in his hometown of Bordeaux – is not far behind the Swedish pair, and the 22 year old matched Gustafsson’s 67 to get to four under and into a great position to make his move for a place in the top 15.

Cheetham is currently 39th on the Rankings and one of around ten players in the field who need at least a second place finish this week to have a chance of breaking into the top 15.

The Englishman played beautifully for 17 of his 18 holes, with a double bogey six on the 13th the only black mark on an otherwise unblemished card. The 37 year old went to the turn in three under par 32 and then put together a great run of three birdies on the spin before losing a ball at the par four 13th and being forced to take six.

“That was a bit of a shock to the system,” admitted Cheetham. “I was on a great run up until then and I just hit an absolutely horrible shot that went kind of sideways, but I got it back with another birdie at the 14th and then had a great up and down for par on the 16th.

“I played a great bunker shot on 17 to save the par and then hit a nice drive down the last, put my seven iron to about 30 feet and rolled her in for birdie.

“I am probably feeling the same as everyone else in the field this week,” continued Cheetham. “It doesn’t matter if you are second or 45th on the Rankings at the moment, if you can manage to win here then you will guarantee a place on Tour next year and everyone knows what that means – it is everything to all 45 guys that are here.

“But you cannot think that far ahead. There is so much more golf to be played before everything is decided on Sunday and we will have to wait and see what happens. I have been very inconsistent this season so I really don’t know what to expect tomorrow.”

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