England’s Chris Gane fired a fine five under par 67 to hold a one stroke clubhouse lead on a windswept opening day the Madeira Islands Open.
The Challenge Tour regular defied winds of up to 30mph to lead by one stroke from Frenchman François Delamontagne and Lloyd Saltman of Scotland during the first round at the stunning Seve Ballesteros-designed Porto Santo Golfe.
Gane’s compatriot and playing partner Tom Whitehouse went round in a two over 74, but his contribution to the leader’s display did not go unnoticed.
Gane, who dedicated his round to son Oliver, who is suffering with chickenpox, said: “Golf’s a very bizarre game – I felt pretty low after the final round last week, and I had about seven hours to kill before my flight, so I spoke to Tom Whitehouse and he agreed to have a look at me hitting a few balls.
“He gave me a lesson for about 45 minutes, and it’s changed everything. So I owe him a lot, and I might even treat him to a drink later – but only because our hotel’s all-inclusive!”
Delamontagne, who is yet to win on The European Tour, compiled an opening round of 68, despite suffering a poor front nine as two birdies were overshadowed by bogeys on the fourth, fifth and eighth holes.
His form improved drastically on the back nine, however, as the 32 year old notched eagles at the tenth and 14th holes, dropping only one shot in between before adding a pair of late birdies.
The Frenchman said: “I like these conditions – the majority of my best results have all come in windy conditions. When it’s windy you need a lot of creativity out on the course, especially around the greens, and normally my short game is one of the strongest parts of my game, which was the case for me today. So I hope this wind continues!”
European Tour rookie Saltman, 25, also looked set for an unspectacular start, before he birdied three of the final four holes to join Delamontagne on four under par.
He said: “It was helpful playing in that type of wind in the Pro-Am yesterday, and also last week in Mallorca the conditions were quite similar. Despite shooting five over in the end I actually played pretty well on the final day, which gave me a bit of confidence to take here. I got off to a nice solid start with a birdie at the third, then I dropped a shot at the seventh to drop back to level par. But I knew there were a few chances on the back nine, and I managed to come back in four under even with a bogey on the 14th, where I hit it off the cliffs but made birdie with my second ball. So I was pretty pleased with that, because it was a tough day but I stayed patient and got my rewards in the end.”
Former Johnnie Walker Championship winner Emanuele Canonica finished a shot further back, and Scotland's Alastair Forsyth, who won the event in 2008, remained in contention after leading the way during the early stages before finishing on one under par after a double bogey at the 14th hole blotted his copybook.
Sweden’s Fredrik Henge and home hero José-Filipe Lima matched Canonica’s two under par round of 70.
Lima said: “This is a course I enjoy playing, mainly because there’s always a lots of wind which suits me. Today I had a very good strategy – the front nine is more dangerous, so my aim was to make pars on the front, and then attack a little bit more on the back nine. I hit my ball in the water on the tenth hole and still managed to save par, but then I made a stupid mistake on the 17th hole, which was such a shame because I was really close to the lead at the time. But it’s always nice to finish with a birdie, which I wasn’t expecting. I haven’t felt like that on the course for a long time, because every aspect of my game is working well – including my putting.”