Grant Jackson defied blustery conditions in the Belgian capital Brussels to charge into the lead on the opening day of the Telenet Trophy on the European Challenge Tour.
The Englishman, who was on the books of rugby league side Castleford Tigers before opting for the more sedate career of a professional golfer, was playing in the first group out at 7.30am, but made light of a 5am alarm call to post a superb five under par round of 67 at Royal Waterloo Golf Club.
Starting on the tenth tee Jackson, competing in his first Challenge Tour season after finishing fourth on the Satellite EPD Tour order of merit last year, got off to a slightly sluggish start with a bogey at his second hole, but notched his first birdie of the day at the par three 15th.
Despite dropping a shot at the next he promptly rallied with successive birdies, and after driving the green at the par four second, the 29 year old duly rolled in an eagle putt from 40 feet to move to three under par for the day.
A further birdie on the third promptly followed, and after bogeying the seventh he closed with two birdies to sign for the lowest round of his fledgling Challenge Tour career.
Jackson said: “It was tough out there because the wind was picking up all the time. I holed a few nice putts, including one from off the green on the last and another long one for eagle on the second. It was important to take your chances where you could, because it was damage limitation at times. But overall I’m happy and I’m now looking forward to a bit of a rest, because it was a very early start this morning.
“Sometimes I set my alarm for 6am at home and go to the gym, to try to get used to the early starts. But a 5am wake-up call is never pleasant! But if anything we maybe got the better of the conditions early in the morning, so it was good to take advantage of them and I’m just pleased to get in with a decent score.
“It was good to get a bit of form back, because I’ve been struggling with my game in the last few weeks. I didn’t get into Madeira last week so went to see my coach a couple of times, and between us we managed to sort a few things out. I’d got a little bit off track, but it was good to have a re-focusing session and hopefully now I can keep it going for the next three days and the rest of the season.”
Jackson is currently one stroke clear of Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, Colombian David Vanegas, England’s Oliver Whiteley and South African Branden Grace, who recovered magnificently from an opening double bogey to sign for a round of 68.
Grace’s preparations were disrupted by a heavy cold and a delayed flight to Brussels from last week’s event in Madeira, but he soon banished the blues with five birdies and an eagle.
Grace said: “I was actually a little bit unlucky on my first hole, because I only leaked my drive a little bit right but we couldn’t find the ball. But other than that I was pretty pleased with my play, because we only arrived here on Tuesday afternoon and I haven’t been feeling too well, so I’d only been able to play the front nine in the practice round. But I’ve been taking some antibiotics and I felt a lot better today, so hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and feel even better in the morning.”
Santos arrived in Brussels on the back of his best European Tour performance after finishing in a tie for tenth place at last week’s Madeira Islands Open, and a five birdie round of 68 continued the fine form which has seen him climb to 15th place in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
He said: “Other than the bogey at the seventh, that was the perfect day. I struck the ball really well and putted unbelievably well. I only had 27 putts, including two from six metres on the ninth and 13th holes. I also made a lot from two metres and under, which gives me a lot of confidence on the greens.
“I was very pleased with how I played in Madeira last week, just on the last day I didn’t really hole any putts. But I’m probably striking the ball as well as ever, so I feel confident every time I go out onto the golf course. I hope that feeling continues for a while yet.”
In contrast Vanegas, who won on his home course in Colombia at the start of last year, was feeling low on confidence after missing the cut in his last two appearances.
But a telephone call to his psychologist in Colombia had the desired effect, and he attributed his round of 68, which included an eagle two at the eighth hole, to a more positive mentality.
Vanegas said: “That’s the best I’ve played for a long time, because I’ve been really struggling with my game. My driving and short game has been poor, but today was much better. After Madeira, I spoke to my psychologist back in Colombia, and it did me a lot of good, because my confidence is coming back. I felt much happier out on the course, even after my double bogey on the 11th hole. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Whiteley is making his first appearance of the season after taking some time out to work on his putting and try to rediscover his love for the game.
The Englishman admitted to feeling some ring-rust early on, but soon slipped back into the groove with a round of 68 which included just one bogey, at the testing 16th hole.
He said: “I putted really well today, which kept my momentum going. I’ve worked really hard on my putting over the winter, and it was nice to see it pay dividends. I took a bit of time off because I wasn’t enjoying playing as much as I used to, but if I keep playing and putting as well as I did today, I’m sure I’ll start to enjoy the game much more again!”
Of the home contingent, it was 2007 champion Nicolas Vanhootegem and Guillaume Watremez who fared the best with rounds of 71, whilst Pierre Relecom delighted the locals with a hole in one at the fourth.