Victor Riu wowed the home crowds with a rousing round of 64 to grab the lead on day of the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the European Challenge Tour.
Riu earned his card through the Alps Tour, a satellite Tour played predominantly across his native France, but proved he belonged in this elevated company with six birdies and an eagle at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in Brittany.
That moved the 24 year old Parisian to six under par, one shot clear of a quintet of players: England’s Lee James, Sweden’s Steven Jeppesen, Denmark’s Oliver Suhr, Australian Matthew Zions and Germany’s Florian Fritsch – who picked up five shots in his closing four holes.
Riu attributed his fast start to his maiden Challenge Tour season – he finished fifth on only his second appearance in the Tusker Kenya Open – to a stint practising in Brisbane, Australia, for three months over the winter.
He said: “It’s a bit warmer in Australia than it is in France! I worked with my coach more on my mental approach and my routine, which was good because I had focused too much on my technique until now. So it was good to get another point of view, and today I think the practice paid off, because I played very well. My long game was very good and I also putted very well, because whenever I had a birdie chance, I took it. Obviously it would be great if I could do well here and then finish in the top 20 at the end of the year, but it’s my first season so I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Also playing his debut season is Fritsch, who only turned professional six months ago. The German, who started on the tenth hole, opened his round with two birdies, but soon dropped back to level par after dropped shots at the 18th – where he hit his approach out of bounds – and the second.
But a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish saw the 23 year old from Munich surge through the field.
He said: “I only turned professional recently so it’s all quite new to me, but so far I’m really enjoying it. I won an EPD Tour event last week, so I knew my game was in good shape. I was worried I might feel tired here this week, because I only found out on Sunday night that I was in the tournament, so I drove for nine hours on Monday to get here. But at the moment I feel fine, and my focus and concentration are good. I’ve just started taking some nutritional supplements which help keep your energy levels high. Apparently Tiger Woods also takes them, so if they’re good enough for him, then they’re good enough for me!”
At the other end of the experience spectrum is the 1994 Amateur Champion James, who joined Fritsch on five under par after a flawless 65.
After a disastrous start to his 2009 Challenge Tour campaign – he was six over par after the first four holes of the Club Colombia Masters – James rallied with a top ten finish in the Tusker Kenya Open, followed by tie for 28th place in Morocco two weeks ago.
Having lost his European Tour card after a poor season with the putter last year, James was naturally delighted after showing signs of a return to form on the greens.
The 36 year old, who shares the same management company as Miguel Angel Jiménez, said: “It often comes down to how you fare on the greens, but that’s particularly true of me. I felt comfortable and confident with the putter in my hand today, and that made all the difference. Two years ago I couldn’t find the fairway off the tee for love nor money, and then last year I put that right, only for my putting to go to pot. So if I can bring it all together this year, I might have a half-decent season!”
Another mouth to feed in the Zions household means Matthew is also in need of a productive season.
Six month old Amelia is currently holidaying in Hawaii with Zions’ wife Amelia, and both would have been pleased with a round of 65 which left the Australian in with an early chance of securing his maiden Challenge Tour title.
Zions’ round was made all the more remarkable by the fact that on Tuesday he suffered severe indigestion, which led to an anxiety attack.
The 30 year old, who finished runner up in Morocco two weeks ago, said: “I’d experienced a similar thing once before, after my grandfather died about 11 years ago. It was pretty frightening. This time I passed out outside the pharmacy, and the medication they gave me didn’t really help. Luckily the physio went and got me some stronger stuff, which seemed to do the trick. So after all that drama, I’ve got to be pretty happy with shooting a 65!”
Jeppesen posted an equally impressive round of 65, which was inspired in part by his compatriot Henrik Stenson’s victory in The Players Championship.
The Swede, who like Stenson is now based in Dubai, arrived in Brittany in good form, having finished inside the top ten in Morocco last week.
The 25 year old has four runner-up finishes on the Challenge Tour to his name, but set off in pursuit of a maiden victory with six birdies and a solitary bogey.
Jeppesen, who will hope to make it a Swedish double after his compatriot Joakim Haegmann captured the title last year, said: “I know Henrik quite well, because we were both attached to Barsebäck Golf Club, which will host the SAS Masters this year. I haven’t spoken to him since he won The Players Championship, because I would imagine he would’ve had hundreds of messages so I thought I’d leave it a while. But I will speak to him, because it was a huge win for Swedish golf.
“I played alongside him once at an Omega foursomes tournament in Sweden a few years ago, when he was playing with Peter Hanson and I was playing with my friend. Believe it or not, we beat them easily that day. So it’s inspiring to know that on my day, I can compete with most guys. I just have to be more consistent, and today was a good start.”
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