Rhys Davies of Wales and Finland’s local hero, Antti Ahokas, stood toe to toe and traded birdies and eagles like prize fighters trading punches at Linna Golf near Helsinki to share the first round lead in the SK Golf Challenge.
The two 24 year olds collected a total of ten birdies and an eagle between them – not spilling a single shot – to shoot 66s and break the Linna course record of 67 established before lunchtime by Danish teenager Jacob Olesen.
The firm friends clearly revelled in each other’s company and enjoyed the glorious conditions and a golf course in prime condition to reward good play.
“I know Rhys well” said Ahokas, who graduated from the Challenge Tour to The European Tour last season and is one of a handful of main Tour players supporting the Challenge tour’s first visit to Linna Golf. “We actually played each other in the US Amateur in 2006 and I holed out from the middle of some trees that day and got the better of him that. Today it was his turn to do some pretty special things.”
Davies, who captured the SWALEC Wales Challenge in his native country last month, admitted that it was a day for the dramatic. He explained: “I was plodding along and suddenly holed a long putt for a two at the seventh, sank a nine iron from 140 yards for an eagle three at the eighth and got up and down for par from 100 yards at the ninth. Suddenly I was flying and everything looked rosy.”
Davies currently lies 22nd on the Challenge Tour Rankings and is chasing one of the 20 precious cards for The European Tour in 2010. The same philosophy applies to Scotland’s Jamie McLeary, who followed Davies into the winner’s circle only last Sunday. Like Davies, he also savoured victory in his homeland, winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore.
McLeary sustained that hot streak of form when he blitzed Linna Golf’s back nine in 32 shots to force his way into the frame for back to back wins on the European Challenge Tour.
McLeary, who closed with a 68 to win his first title, opened his account in the SK Golf Challenge with an identical score to sit two behind Ahokas and Davies after the first day.
The 28 year old moved from 57th to 11th on the Challenge Tour Rankings after that victory and now has his sights trained even higher after another high class performance.
“I would say that I played better today than at any time last week” he said. “The course is perfect – not a blade of grass out of place – but you get in trouble if you don’t play well off the tee. Fortunately that was one of the strengths of my game. I actually hit 13 out of 14 fairways and that helped me construct a decent round.”
Two-time European Tour champion Mikko Ilonen, playing over his home course, carded a solid 69 to share fifth place with five other players while former Ryder Cup player Jarmo Sandelin, back in the land of his birth, opened with a 71.