Jamie McLeary (EuropeanTour)
A round of 67 saw Jamie McLeary lead a Scottish one-two on the opening day of the inaugural M2M Russian Challenge Cup.
McLeary made light weather of the wet and windy playing conditions at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club, on the outskirts of the Russian capital Moscow, to move to five under par.
McLeary is currently one shot clear of his compatriot Callum Macaulay, whose 68 was the only bogey-free round of the day, and Frenchman Edouard Dubois.
Like a number of players in the field, McLeary has targeted an improved performance at the €175,000 event in a bid to bolster his Ranking position of 57th.
McLeary, who started his round on the tenth tee, went out in 34 courtesy of birdies at the 15th and 17th holes before notching a further four birdies after the turn, with his only blemish coming at the testing ninth, where he found trouble off the tee.
His 67 was the lowest round of a Challenge Tour campaign which, according to McLeary, has been a good deal better than the bare results would suggest.
He said: “The weather wasn’t too bad for most of the morning, but it really started coming in towards the end of the round, so I’m pleased to get in – especially after shooting a 67. The ninth was playing so tough into the wind, and when I missed the fairway I had no option other than to lay up. But that was the only time I got into any trouble all day, which was good going on this course.
“When I played the practice round earlier in the week I realised how tough it was – the winning score this week isn’t going to be anywhere near as low as other weeks. It was even tougher in the wind and rain today, but I stayed focused and played very well – a fair few putts lipped out, so 67 is probably the worst I could’ve scored. But I can’t get too greedy.
“The course is unbelievable – it’s a joy to play on. In some ways it’s quite similar to Dalmahoy, my local course back home in Edinburgh. The layout and length are both fairly similar, as is the grass – especially on the greens, which is almost identical. And the weather today’s been pretty much the same as well! So it was like a home from home out there for me today.
“It’s only the first day so I’m not going to get too carried away, but it’s always good to get off to a decent start. I’ve actually played pretty well this season – probably better than last year, in fact – but I just haven’t been able to put it together for four rounds in a row. Hopefully this week’s different, because I need a decent result to push my way into the top 45 of the Rankings to qualify for the Grand Final.”
That’s also the aim for Macaulay, who was delighted to keep the bogeys off the card in his round of 68 – largely because his Dad has been reminding him that it has been a while since he achieved the feat.
Macaulay opened his birdie account on the par three 13th, and rattled off three in succession from the fourth hole to build on his top 25 finish in Kazakhstan last week.
He said: “The wind really picked up on our back nine, then when the rain came in for the last five or six holes it made life even trickier. So I was absolutely delighted to keep the bogeys off the card. It’s the first time I’ve managed that for a long time, and my Dad’s not shy of bring it up! That was all I was thinking about on my last hole, the ninth, which was playing straight into the wind and rain. I hit a great five wood with my second shot which fell just short of the green, but I managed to get up and down from the rough, which was a huge relief.
“It’s a great golf course, but it’s going to be a huge challenge if the weather stays like this. The course is playing its full length, because you’re not getting any run on the fairways whatsoever. But fortunately I struck the ball well, and my putting has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks. I played really well in Strasbourg but my putting was the worst it’s been in years.
“So I used the weekend wisely to work on my putting, and I’m now starting to reap the benefits. It’s also taken a lot of pressure of my approach and chip shots, because I don’t feel as though I have to put it to a foot to be sure of sinking the putt. Even if I knock it to three or four feet I still feel confident of making the putt, which gives me a great mental boost.”
Challenge Tour rookie Dubois, who finished second at the Telenet Trophy earlier in the season, is currently inside the top 40 of the Rankings.
But with almost €20,000 separating him from Scott Jamieson in 20th place, the Frenchman would require a top two finish this week to stand any chance of climbing into the automatic graduation places.
Dubois, who mixed six birdies with two bogeys, said: “I played very well today and made two great putts, for birdie on the 11th and for par on the sixth. I was disappointed to miss the cut in Kazakhstan last week, because the prize fund is so big. But today was much better. I need a good week to climb up the Rankings, and this was a good start. It’s a great course, but also very tough. It’s very long but I really enjoyed playing it, and I’m looking forward to the next three days. If I can shoot 68 again tomorrow, I’ll be very happy!”
England’s Simon Wakefield, currently 62nd in the Challenge Tour Rankings and therefore also in need of a big week, is currently in a tie for fourth place on three under par alongside his compatriot Matt Haines and Austrian Thomas Feyrsinger.
Wakefield opened and closed his round with bogeys, but carded five birdies in between to sign for a 69.
He said: “I’ve been feeling so rough in the past few days that I would’ve taken anything under 75. I’ve had no energy at all this week, but I started to feel a bit better on the range this morning and it probably showed in my round. I swung the club slightly differently to the way I’ve been swinging it in the last few weeks and it seemed to work for me, because I hit some really good shots out there.
“I felt like I could generate a bit more power, and you need all the length you can get out there. I hit a driver and a three wood to a foot on the ninth hole – it’ll probably be the only birdie there all day! The back nine’s probably the tougher of the two – from the tenth to the 13th, par is definitely your friend.
“So to shoot 69 was very pleasing, and it gives me a decent chance of improving my Ranking. Unless I play exceptionally well the top 20 is now probably out of reach, but top 45’s definitely a realistic target. If I can make the Qualifying School Final, I feel my game’s in good enough shape to get through it.”
Feyrsinger’s up and down day featured seven birdies and four bogeys, whilst Haines’ round was a more steady affair, with his only blemish of the day coming at the par three sixth.