Some superb strokeplay as well as a hefty slice of luck helped England’s Gary Boyd to a round of 63 on the rain-affected opening day of the Kazakhstan Open, which carries the largest prize fund of a regular Challenge Tour event.
Boyd smashed the course record at the stunning Arnold Palmer-designed Zhailjau Golf Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with nine birdies in a flawless round of golf.
That represents Boyd’s lowest round to par – his previous best was an eight under par 62 in Poland last year – in a fledgling professional career which has so far yielded one Challenge Tour victory.
With some of the afternoon starters still to complete their first rounds due to a two-hour delay caused by heavy rain, the Englishman currently leads the €400,000 event by three strokes from Sweden’s Oscar Floren and American Nathan Smith, who are tied for second place on six under par.
But Boyd’s advantage would have been reduced were it not for an outrageous slice of fortune at the ninth hole, where he thinned his third shot into the lake – only for his ball to skim across the surface of the water and onto the bank on the far side, from where he was able to save par with an up and down.
A slightly sheepish Boyd said: “I got off to a steady start, and then four birdies in a row from the fourth hole really got me going. Then I had a massive stroke of luck on the ninth hole when I managed to skim my third shot across the lake. I was just on the edge of the hazard and caught it thin, but it must’ve bounced on the water about ten times and ended up on the bank on the other side!
“It was unbelievable really. I managed to get up and down for par, and after that I thought it might be my day. I also holed a lot of crucial putts, which always helps. It’s my lowest round to par in my career, and it’s obviously set me up really nicely for the rest of the week – although there’s still a long way to go. But it’s a dream start – or even better than a dream in fact.”
Smith’s day was rather less eventful, though he did open with a bogey and close with two birdies in a round which represents his second lowest of a topsy turvy season. His 66, which included eight birdies, was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he shot an 80 on the second day of last week’s Dutch Futures to miss the cut.
Indeed Smith, who missed out on a European Tour card by one shot at last year’s Qualifying School – Final Stage, has endured a rollercoaster ride of a season on the Challenge Tour.
The American, who uses his friend’s couch as a base when he is playing in Europe, has missed the cut in eight of his 11 appearances, but has never finished outside the top 15 when he has played all four rounds.
He said: “It was strange today, because I didn’t feel that comfortable with the putter in my hand, and I still managed to make a lot of putts. But the key to scoring low out here is to find the fairways, because if you don’t, you’re going to get punished by the rough. I found that out to my cost on my first hole of the day, where I could only chop it out 100 yards and made bogey. But I learned my lesson, and luckily my day got better from there.
“I didn’t feel too good coming into the week on the back of my 80 last week, which is the biggest score I’ve had for a few years. But before that I had been striking the ball better and had finished fourth in Poland, so my confidence is coming back. It’s really been feast or famine for me this season. My goal last year was to improve my consistency, and whilst that maybe hasn’t happened, I do feel I’m now at least moving in the right direction again. It’s taking me a while to adjust to travelling around Europe and also to feel more comfortable out on the course, but I’m on more of an even keel now.”
The same could be said of Floren, who coincidentally finished in a tie for fourth place alongside Smith in Poland last month.
After missing the cut at The Princess in his homeland in June, the Swede was given a dressing down by his coach, who felt his young charge was not making the most of his talents.
But since then, Floren has risen to 40th in the Rankings after finishing inside the top 45 in six of the seven events he has played.
He said: “I had a stretch in the summer where I missed five cuts out of seven tournaments, so my coach sat me down and had a chat with me. All I can say is that he wasn’t very happy with me! So we changed a few things with my technique and my approach to practice, and also made sure I was better prepared for tournaments. It seems to have worked, and yesterday I had a really good practice session. So today I felt a lot more comfortable on the course, because I knew I’d done everything I possibly could do to prepare myself physically and mentally for what is a very big week. I played very solid – I think I only missed two fairways all day. So if I can keep that up for the rest of the week, I will have a good chance.”
Lloyd Saltman is currently in fourth place on five under par after completing 12 holes. The Scot, who posted three birdies and an eagle on the front nine, will return in the morning to finish his remaining six holes.