French amateur Romain Bechu lived up to his billing as one of European golf’s most exciting talents as, playing in his first Challenge Tour event, he delighted the home crowd by racing into the lead of the Open A.G.F Allianz Côtes D’Armor Bretagne.
Bechu, who celebrated his 22nd birthday three days ago, flew out of the blocks with five birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes, reaching the turn at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in a staggering 28 strokes which incredibly included taking a penalty drop on the eighth where he bogeyed.
The fireworks ran out on the back nine, with the 14th in particular proving a “nightmare” for the young man from Biarritz as he needed another penalty drop from bushes on his way to a double bogey six. But he regrouped with birdies on the 16th and 17th to complete an impressive seven under par 63 for a one stroke lead over former Ryder Cup player Peter Baker of England.
Bechu has emerged this year from three years of illness to become a force to be reckoned with having won the French Amateur Championship in May before adding the Brabazon Trophy, the English Amateur Stroke Play Championship, to his CV when he finished joint winner with England’s Jamie Moul.
Bechu also claimed the silver medal as part of the French team in the European Amateur Championship.
“I made only ten putts on the front nine,” said the delighted Bechu after his round. “Starting with five birdies in a row was fantastic. I was just hitting everything within two or three metres and the putts were going in.”
Two holes later, on the par five seventh, he came within a whisker of making an albatross two when his seven iron approach hit the pin. The ball stayed above ground but he converted the eagle putt to lie seven under for his first seven holes.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything at that stage, it was only when I started to think about how I was doing on the back nine that it started to go wrong,” he said. “The 14th is one of the toughest holes I have ever played and I tried to play safely with a two iron off the tee but pushed and went in the bushes.”
Having taken a drop, his second penalty of the round, his next shot finished against a tree, he chipped out and eventually got up and down to save a double bogey. But two birdies in the closing holes wiped that out.
His goal, having progressed through the European Tour Qualifying School First Stage, is to get his European Tour card and if he continues to play as he has this year he has every chance of making his dream become reality.
Baker is another player chasing the dream of a European Tour card as he looks to regain his card through the Challenge Tour. The former European Tour champion and Ryder Cup player and assistant to Ian Woosnam last September at The K Club needs a strong finish in the four remaining events of the Challenge Tour season to get back on The European Tour.
Currently 23rd on the Rankings where the top 20 win promotion to The European Tour, Baker admitted he was in the “boiling pot” but is confident his game will carry him over the line.
Baker got his round off to an ideal start with two birdies on the tenth and 11th and then chipped in on the 14th. Birdies on the 16th, where he holed from 30 feet and the 17th, converting from 12 feet, took him out in 31. A back nine of 33 followed to leave him one shot off the lead.
“I played well and putted particularly well,” he said. “That was the difference today as I took my chances out there.
“We have four tournaments left including this one and I am in the boiling pot in 23rd place on the Rankings. I am looking forward to the run in. I have been playing well for a while and I just need to keep putting well. I am just going to play my own game and if I play well I should be okay.”
Fellow Englishman Sam Osbourne lies on four under par 66 in a share of third place with in-form Swede Leif Westerberg, winner of the Kazakhstan Open a fortnight ago and a player assured of is European Tour card as he currently lies third on the Challenge Tour Rankings.
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