Daniel Gaunt continued his run of form on the European Challenge Tour as he eagled his penultimate hole for an eight under par 64 and a share of the lead with Lorenzo Gagli and Ryan Blaum in the first round of the ALLIANZ Europen de Strasbourg-Golf de la Wantzenau.
Gaunt fired six birdies alongside his eagle as he equalled the lowest round of his Challenge Tour career with a superb iron display around Golf de la Wantzenau.
Ominously for the rest of the field, the previous occasion Gaunt shot 64 was in the first round of the English Challenge last month – a tournament he went on to win on his first Challenge Tour appearance of the season .
The 31 year old Australian, who has recorded three top 30 finishes since that victory including a share of 12th place in the ECCO Tour Championship, is hoping he can maintain his flying start and capture another title.
“It was a pretty good day today,” he said. “I pretty much just stayed patient. It’s one of those courses where there’s going to be a lot of low scores out there so forcing it early on wasn’t the key.
“Luckily I hit some great shots today and made some birdies and then eagled the eighth coming in to go to eight under. I was bogey free too so it was a solid day – my iron play was great and my driving was good too.
“We were playing clean and place today so it was vital to be in the fairway so you could clean your ball and luckily I did that which makes it a lot easier hitting into the greens and get it close.
“I shot eight under in the first round when I won at Stoke-by-Nayland last month so hopefully it is a good sign!”
Gaunt started the season on the EuroPro Tour but after his win and subsequent good form on the Challenge Tour he has reassessed his goals for the season and is looking for another strong performance in France this week to improve on his current position of 29th in the Rankings.
“I’ve played pretty well all year and the win was the icing on the cake,” he said. “The last few weeks I’ve been trying to force things a lot to get into the top 20 quicker than I should have so today I just went out there and played.
“I need to look at where I finish at the end of the season, not at the end of each tournament. I’m trying to stay patient. The win was a confident boost. I knew I could play against these guys but getting the win under the belt certainly pushes your confidence up.
“I’m feeling really good this week. I didn’t play well in the Pro-Am but I spoke to my coach afterwards and did some work on the range and we sorted it out.”
Alongside Gaunt at the top of the leaderboard is Italian Gagli, who fired six consecutive birdies from the ninth hole to ignite his round, and American Blaum who carded a remarkable 11 birdies.
The 26 year old from North Carolina is trying to get back to full fitness following a severe bout of glandular fever which struck at Qualifying School Final, after he won the First and Second Stage, and lasted six months.
“Eleven birdies in a round is my personal best,” said Blaum. “My best before was ten so I’m delighted. I started birdie, bogey, bogey as well so I was one over after three holes but I caught fire and birdied five in a row.
“I hit the ball so well – my iron play was great – and I putted the lights out. It was a good day.”
Gagli hit all 18 greens in regulation and would have been the outright leader but for a three putt on the last hole which led to his only bogey of the day.
“I was really pleased with my round today and played great from tee to green,” he said. “I played awful in Germany and missed the cut and then I played well in Wales but putted really badly. Today I played well and also putted very well so that was the difference.
Englishman Paul Dwyer is one shot behind the leading trio after a 65 while Spaniard Alvaro Velasco produced five birdies on the back nine as he posted a six under par round of 66 to sit two strokes back.
The round of the afternoon groups belonged to 19 year old French Amateur Romain Wattel, whose 67 included eagles on the fifth and eighth holes to move him into a group of eight players tied for sixth, which includes Stuart Manley, George Murray, Frenchman Victor Riu and Simon Wakefield.
Wattel, who is fourth in the World Amateur Rankings, finished 32nd in the Alstom Open de France earlier this season and will look to become the second amateur winner on the Challenge Tour this month, following Andreas Hartø’s victory in the ECCO Tour Championship in Germany.