England’s Richard McEvoy and Michele Reale of Italy flew the flag for the European Challenge Tour as they took a share of the lead on five under par at the Panasonic Panama Masters.
McEvoy – the winner of the 2003 Qualifying School Finals – and Reale, who won the Challenge Tour Rankings in 1997, both carded opening rounds of 67 at the Coronado Beach and Golf Resort to hold a one shot advantage over Argentina’s Rafael Gomez, who won the 47th Abierto Mexicano de Golf last week.
It was on this very weekend 12 months ago that McEvoy led The European Tour's Omega Hong Kong Open, and now, a year on, the 2001 Walker Cup winner is leading the way at the other side of the world in Panama.
McEvoy set the early first round pace and was the clubhouse leader for most of the day at the Coronado Beach and Golf Resort before Reale came home with his own 67 to tie the Englishman at the top of the leaderboard.
Playing the course back to front, McEvoy began his round on the tenth amidst some blustery conditions and went to the turn in 32 picking up four birdies to lay the foundations for his leading score.
“I dropped a couple of shots coming in but I’m generally happy with the round,” said McEvoy. “I took most of the chances that I made for birdies and got away with a few good saves so it’s a good start. I started really well and just felt really good as soon as I was out on the course.”
Reale – who has two Challenge Tour victories to his name – experienced the less testing conditions of the afternoon, and as a result felt it easier to shoot the leading score and join McEvoy in the lead.
“I had an easy round,” Reale said, “although the golf course is very difficult. I had five birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. I putted very well and holed a long putt for the eagle, so it was a great day for me.”
The Panasonic Panama Open is second of three co-sanctioned events between the Challenge Tour and the Tour de las Americas before the Christmas break, and the TLA players are hot on the heels of Challenge Tour Members McEvoy and Reale.
With Gomez just one off the pace, there are a further three Argentine players, namely Rafael Echenique, Miguel Rodriguez and Andreas Romero who are sitting alongside Paraguay Marco Ruiz on three under par.
But there are a host of Europeans waiting to pounce after solid openings. Welshman Sion Bebb, the English pair of Ross Fisher and Stuart Davis, Spain’s Alvaro Salto and Scotland’s Marc Warren are all very much in the hunt after opening the Panasonic Panama Open with one under par 71s.
There was disappointment for England’s James Heath who was forced to withdraw form the tournament due to illness. Heath, who exploded onto the Challenge Tour scene last weekend by finishing fourth at the 47th Abierto Mexicano de Golf on what was his debut as a professional, was advised by doctors not to play in the Panama heat as he struggled to overcome flu-type symptoms.