Joint leaders Matthew Cort of England and Sweden’s Björn Pettersson, who picked up two shots in his last three holes, were the only men to break 70 on day one of the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
The testing course at Vale Hotel Golf and Spa Resort in Cardiff, Wales, claimed numerous victims, with only 18 players under par, but Pettersson made a late surge to join Cort at the top of the leaderboard on three under par.
Usually renowned for his big hitting, Pettersson credited his round of 69 to a change of putter.
The Swede, who holed a wedge from 60 yards for an eagle three on the fourth hole, said: “It was definitely my day on the greens today – I holed quite a few long putts. I started using a broomstick putter about a year ago and went back to it yesterday, and today he was my friend. So I’ll be keeping him in the bag for a while longer now.”
Pettersson is a relative newcomer to the Challenge Tour, but Cort has the experience of a season on The European Tour on which to call.
Last season the Englishman competed on the Europro Tour, having lost his European Tour playing privileges, but he has now targeted a return to the elite level after a steady improvement in recent results.
Cort said: “It’s been a see saw couple of years, and I’ve had to really rebuild my career. It was like going back six or seven years, trying to find somewhere to play every week. But I had to go back in order to move forward. My confidence took a bit of a knock, but hopefully I’m on my way back now.”
The pair are one shot clear of a trio of Englishmen – Marcus Higley, David Horsey and John Mellor – as well as Spain’s Carlos del Moral and Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm.
Mellor’s up and down day included a seven and an eagle two, whilst Sjoholm posted five birdies in his round of 70. Higley’s round also featured a seven, but the Englishman rallied with consecutive birdies on his last two holes.
Higley's compatriot Horsey, meanwhile, arrived in Wales fresh from his maiden Open Championship appearance at Royal Birkdale last week, when collected a cheque for €12,389 after finishing in a tie with ISM stablemate and compatriot Lee Westwood in 67th place.
Horsey, who this week could become the first man to graduate straight onto The European Tour with three Challenge Tour victories, said: “I played really well on the first two days last week and put myself right into contention, but maybe I got a bit ahead of myself over the weekend instead of just keeping things on an even keel.
“I really enjoyed myself though, and I’m desperate to play again next year, because I learnt a lot from the experience. On the third day I played with Zach Johnson, who’s won a Major tournament, and it was a real confidence boost to know I could hold my own in that sort of company.”
Horsey’s round of 70 was matched by del Moral, who recently turned to a psychologist for help after missing seven consecutive cuts.
The Spaniard, who was room-mates with America’s Anthony Kim during their time together at Oklahoma State University, recovered from a double bogey at the first hole and an outward nine of 37 to join Horsey on two under par.
He said: “I’ve been doing a lot of work with my coach on my swing, and also with a psychologist to improve my concentration levels. It seems to be paying off, because I’ve finished third and 11th in my last two tournaments. My confidence is growing all the time, and today it showed. My season really starts here.”