Rhys Davies’ fine recent form continued at the Fred Olsen Challenge de España as the Welshman posted a flawless round of 65 to join his namesake Gareth Davies of England, home favourite Jesus Maria Arruti and Sweden’s Steven Jeppesen at the top of the leaderboard.
The SWALEC Wales Challenge winner, who has earned over €50,000 in six Challenge Tour appearances to climb to 13th place in the Rankings, collected six birdies on the opening day at the picturesque Tecina Golf in the Canary Islands, off the coast of mainland Spain.
Davies said: “I putted very well today – that was really the key to my low score. I got into a good rhythm with my putter and it also helped that I was able to read the lines well, because some of the greens were pretty tricky. To be honest I didn’t hit the ball particularly well off the tee and even some of my iron shots were pretty ordinary, but I was able to hole some key putts for par, which kept me going.
“My season’s going pretty well – I’m playing solidly and I’m happy with my game. I’m currently 13th in the Rankings and I’ve nearly done enough to get a European Tour card of some sort, but I just want to keep it going and keep climbing the Rankings to make my card safe.”
Jeppesen joined Davies on six under par after matching the Welshman’ flawless round, whilst the other Davies – Englishman Gareth – and Arruti made it a four-way tie at the top in the €150,000 event.
The Spaniard, whose 20 visits to the Qualifying School is a European Tour record, now also holds the record for the lowest nine-hole score of the 2009 Challenge Tour season, having reached the turn in a scarcely-credible 28 shots courtesy of six birdies and an eagle.
Unfortunately for the home crowds, however, Arruti was unable to maintain his momentum and he came home in 37 to drop back to six under par.
He said: “I play some really great golf on the front nine. My longest birdie putt was from five metres on the second hole – even my eagle putt on the seventh was only from three metres! But I got the back nine off to a bad start with a bogey on the tenth hole, and then got in trouble on the 11th and 12th holes, which also cost me bogeys. But at least I got one back on the 17th hole, which was a good finish.
“The main difference was that I hit the ball very straight on the front nine, and found every fairway. But on the back nine I missed too many fairways and rolled into the rough, which is very tough. But it’s only the second time I’ve played this course, and you have to know your way around here to play it well. So hopefully tomorrow will be even better.”
Jeppesen is also hopeful of brighter days ahead, having slowly slipped down the Rankings despite a promising start to the season which saw him finish in the top ten in consecutive weeks in Morocco and France.
He said: “I got into some bad old habits for a while, so recently I’ve made a few changes to my swing with Christian Hardin, my coach back in Sweden, and it seems to have worked. I worked mainly on my rotation, and today it felt a lot better. I got off to a great start with three birdies in my first three holes, which is always good for your confidence!
“The only time I was really in trouble was on the 13th hole, when I missed the green with my second shot and played a poor chip shot, but holed the putt from about 20 feet. But other than that, I felt in control all day.
“It’s a really nice course. When I arrived on the island and saw the landscape, I couldn’t really see how they could build a golf course here. But it works – they’ve done a great job.”
Despite a bogey at the 14th hole Davies’ back nine score of 32 was the lowest of the four leaders, and his round of 65 was also the lowest of the Englishman’s season so far.
Davies had showed signs of a return to form with a top 30 finish in Poland last week, and he was happy to build on his improved showing with another fine performance – particularly on the greens – at Tecina Golf.
He said: “I putted really well today – I probably holed about four or five putts from 20 feet or more. So I was really happy with my round. I’ve only played five events this year and I’m well down in the Rankings, so I probably need a good week here to give myself any chance of taking something from the season. If I play like I did today for the rest of the week, I’ll be there or thereabouts.”
One shot back on five under par is Switzerland’s Raphäel de Sousa, who put behind him the disappointment of ten missed cuts this season to fire a round of 66.
De Sousa, who narrowly missed out on graduation to The European Tour through the Challenge Tour in 2008, has endured a miserable campaign, and is currently languishing in 253rd place in the Rankings with earnings of just €315. But the 26 year old from Geneva rediscovered his form, particularly on the greens.
He said: “I putted really well today. I’ve been really struggling on the greens this year, so recently I’ve been working really hard on my putting stroke with my Australian coach, Gavin Healey. This season has been really tough – I’ve been missing cuts by just one or two shots every week, and that’s been mainly down to my poor putting.
“But I’ve been playing better in the last few weeks, and today was better still. The technical changes I made worked well, and my rhythm felt much better. My long game was pretty good but my putting was the main difference, because I hardly missed anything all day.
“It’s a very nice course, and it’s in great condition. There are definitely birdie chances out there, but there are also holes where you have to play more conservatively or you’ll end up in trouble, especially if the wind’s blowing hard.”
De Sousa was joined on five under par by the Argentine duo of Clodomiro Carranza and Pablo Del Grosso, the Spanish trio of Franciso Cea, Javier Colomo and Daniel Quiros, England’s Chris Gane and Germany’s Benjamin Miarka.
Colomo and Quiros both eagled the third hole, whilst Cea opened with a bogey but closed with two birdies to match his two compatriots’ rounds of 66.
Colomo, currently 33rd in the Challenge Tour Rankings, said: “The key to my score was my mental strength. From the first hole to the last my concentration was very good, and I really thought about every shot. My putting was good and my short game was also better, which is great because that’s an area of my game which has let me down lately. I’m very happy and my confidence is high, so I’m really looking forward to the last seven weeks of the season.”
England’s Adam Gee also hit the headlines on the opening day, recording the first albatross of the 2009 Challenge Tour season on the seventh hole.
Gee said: “I hit an 18 degree rescue club from 230 yards, and the next thing I knew, it’d gone in! I never thought I would hole it, particularly as I was two over par at the time and playing badly – so it made my round look a bit better than it actually was!”