English duo Matthew Cort and John Parry staged their own version of ‘The Late, Late Show’ at The Vale Hotel Golf and Spa to grab a share of the first round lead in the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
Out virtually last in the day on opposite sides of the demanding Cardiff course, the pair arrived together to sign their scorecards at 8.20pm and did so for respective four under par 68s to take a one shot lead over their fellow countryman Alex Belt and Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon who both opened with 69s.
Cort started well in the event last year before finishing 47th and, with the weather poor in the build up this year, decided to use his memories of the layout and forgo any practice round, a strategy which worked well.
“I had lots of time to kill this morning because I wasn’t out until so late and you could tell by the scoring it was tricky,” he said. “So I just went out trying to limit the mistakes really and concentrate on fairways and greens and take it from there.”
Certainly, his three putt bogey at the 11th aside, Cort was steadiness personified and carded five birdies elsewhere, the pick of the bunch coming at the short fourth where a fine four iron into the wind came to rest 12 feet from the cup from where he holed for his two.
Alongside him at the top of the leaderboard, Parry matched his round almost shot for shot, also making only one mistake with a three putt bogey four at the third but he finished strongly on the tough closing stretch, including a birdie three at the 466 yard 17th.
Parry has done well this season on the Challenge Tour, a third place finish in France and a fifth place finish in Switzerland helping him to currently 26th place on the Rankings. Ironically, however, he admitted his form coming into the event had not been encouraging.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence coming here because I hadn’t been hitting it too well in practice,” he said. “I had a week off recently and maybe I lost a bit of momentum but I suppose it shows how well you’re progressing if you can perhaps not feel you’re playing your best but still be in contention.”
Third placed Hutcheon might have spent last winter refurbishing drill bits in a factory but the Scot showed he also possessed the tools to succeed on the golf course.
The 36 year old took the decision to work at the Redback Drilling Tools factory in Aberdeen to save money for his wedding in March but, with the ceremony now behind him, has turned his attention back to golf in an attempt to work his way back to the top echelons of the game.
“I think I am good enough to play on The European Tour and I do feel I have the game to have won on The European Tour,” he said. “I am fairly long and my short game is competent enough to be able to compete there so hopefully this is the start of a decent couple of weeks for me.
“One good week can turn it all around here on the Challenge Tour but, to be honest, I feel like I’m at the crossroads now. I have made a lot of cuts this year but have finished between 40th and 60th and when you do that, you end up losing money.
“I am going to play this week and next week in the Scottish Hydro Challenge but if I don’t do well enough I think I will just have to concentrate on playing the Tartan Tour for the rest of the year.”
Certainly if the former Scottish Professional Champion can repeat the form he showed on the back nine of the National Course – playing to its full 7,266 yards due to heavy pre-tournament rain and strong winds – then he might be sticking around the Challenge Tour circuit for a few months yet.
To the turn in level par 36, Hutcheon turned on the style heading for home with birdies at the tenth, 12th, 15th and 16th holes, the latter on the demanding 495 yard 16th particularly noteworthy as, after his drive, he found the middle of the green with a three wood approach and holed from 15 feet for his three.
He dropped a shot at the last after missing the green but the Scot admitted he hoped that would be the only bit of misfortune he encountered this week. “That was a shame,” he said. “But it was the only real downside of the day. I will keep battling on because I love the game.”
Alongside the Scot, Belt, who lived up to his name by smashing a drive onto the green at the 322 yard tenth hole before holing out for an eagle two, was left to rue what might have been after an untidy ending to his opening round in his first ever Challenge Tour event.
The man from Flamborough, who received an invite into the event after his recent success in the Assistants PGA Championship at Bull Bay in North Wales, followed the eagle with birdies at the par five 12th and 13th holes to be six under par for the day at that stage, but he proceeded to drop shots at the 14th, 16th and 18th.
“I had a few lip-outs at the end which was annoying because I was flying round,” he said. “My caddie said to me that if I had been offered 69 at the start of the day I would have taken it which is true I suppose, but when you are six under par with five to go, it suddenly doesn’t sound so good.
With the wet course playing its full 7,266 yards and conditions made tougher with the swirling winds, only ten players from the 156 starters broke par with the average score for the day being 76.6.
A couple of players to suffer in the general malaise were the two pre-tournament favourites, European Tour regulars Stephen Dodd and Phillip Price, who carded rounds of 75 and 80 respectively.