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Friday, 19 March 2010

As the autumnal sun began to set behind the spectacular Tien-Shan mountains, Spain’s Alfredo Garcia-Heredia and England’s Sam Osborne rose to the top of the leaderboard with opening rounds of six under par 66 at the at the Nurtau Golf Club in the €300,000 Kazakhstan Open.

Few golf courses in the world have a backdrop as spectacular as Nurtau, where the snow dusted peaks of the Tien-Shan mountain range dominate the skyline. It is there where the European Challenge Tour players are contesting the richest single event in the tour’s history, with Garcia-Heredia and Osborne producing the highest levels of performance of 132-strong field to race into a one shot lead.

The English duo of Chris Gane and Denny Lucas made their own significant climbs to move into a share of third place on five under par, with Norway’s Peter Kaensche, the English trio of Gary Lockerbie Denny Lucas and Kieran Staunton, Spain’s Alvaro Salto and Argentina’s Julio Zapata a shot further back.

Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, meanwhile, who finished in the nine-strong group of players on three under par, holed in one at the par three third hole with a perfect nine iron from 142 metres.

Garcia-Heredia got his Kazakhstan Open quest off to the perfect start with birdies on his first two holes at Nurtau – the tenth and 11th – but he then dropped those two shots on the 12th and 13th.

He soon composed himself, though, and picked up three successive birdies from the 15th to 17th before picking up another three shots on the front nine to set the clubhouse lead at six under 66.

He said: “I played very well – the score could have been better because I missed three birdie chances in my last three holes, but I am happy with how I have started the tournament.

“This the first time that I have been to Kazakhstan and it is a beautiful country from what I have seen. The mountains that you see from the golf course are beautiful and I am happy to be here.

“I had a poor start to the season this year but I have been playing better since Russia last month and if I feel that I can finish the season well from now.”

While Garcia-Heredia is visiting Kazakhstan for the first time, Osborne played in the inaugural Kazakhstan open last season, when he began the week in similarly blistering fashion to that of his opening round of the 2006 tournament.

The Englishman started the week with an eight under par 64 twelve months ago, but took every bit as much satisfaction from Thursday’s opening 66 given the changes that have taken place at Nurtau.

“The course has changed a lot since last year. They have lengthened it quite a bit and the rough is a lot thicker, so it is a lot tougher this year,” said Osborne.

“It’s a good start and that is good because this week is very important for us. It’s the biggest event of the year and because there are only three tournaments left this season it takes on an extra significance.

“You try and treat it like every other event because you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself, but it is a big week for all of us.”

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Tournament Leaderboard

PosPlayer NameNatHolePar
1PILKINGTON, MarkWAL18-16
2WEBSTER, Shaun PENG18-14
T3KAYMER, MartinGER18-12
T3LOCKERBIE, GaryENG18-12
T3ARRUTI, Jesus MariaESP18-12
6SALTO, AlvaroESP18-11
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