Austrian Roland Steiner made an already great week even better when he fired an eight under par 64 to lead by two shots in the first round of the Norwegian Challenge.
Steiner and Florian Praegant won the European Qualifier for the Omega Mission Hills World Cup on Sunday, booking Austria’s place in the biennial event at Mission Hills Resort in China in November.
As the Challenge Tour resumed after a two-week break, Steiner took confidence from his success in Estonia to sparkle with a new course record at Hauger Golf Club on the outskirts of Oslo, firing eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.
He leads by two from Swede Pelle Edberg and Scotsman Craig Lee, who won a tournament PGA Scottish region tournament last week, and by three from Englishman Sam Little, Sandro Piaget of Moncao, home hope Eirik Tage Johansen, Swede Victor Almstrom and Frenchman Christopher Brazilier.
Steiner, currently 51st in the Challenge Tour Rankings, said: “I woke up this morning and didn’t expect to shoot 64, but I played really well and only made two mistakes. The rest was straightforward.
“It was a combination of everything. I missed two short putts on the 13th and 15th to make bogeys, but the rest were good. I had an eagle putt from about 30cm on the 14th so that was a great approach, and on my first hole – the tenth – my approach was to less than a metre. So I had some good iron shots and holed some longer putts on the back nine.
“It feels great to qualify for the World Cup and we played really well last week. Of course it gives you confidence as you know you can play that well. I’ve tried to bring that confidence over here and it has worked.
“I missed the English Challenge so I could have two weeks off, like everyone else. I knew I would be playing the qualifier and then here and next week, so I wanted a break. I feel very refreshed. Last week was not very stressful because it was just 22 players and in two of the rounds you only hit half the shots. It doesn’t make you that tired.”
Lee dropped a shot at the second but bounced back brilliantly with four consecutive birdies. Another followed at the eighth as he reached the turn in four under par, and he added three more against one bogey on the back nine.
“I’m delighted with that start and played very nicely,” said Lee, who is currently sixth in the Challenge Tour Rankings. “I holed a few putts early on the front nine which was good, and I threw away a couple of silly shots, but overall I’m really happy.
“The first week we had off I didn’t do anything, didn’t swing a club. The second week I had a local event in Scotland with the PGA Scottish region, a 36 hole tournament which I managed to win in a play-off. So that got the confidence up coming here and it has kept going from there.
“The course is good, very Scottish-like with a lot of hills and the ball doesn’t fly as far as in other European countries we visit. The greens are very soft with all the rain they’ve had, so it’s pleasing to my eye.
“It’s actually quite like St Omer, where I finished second a couple of months ago. The front nine in particular is very hill and with conditions we have here – windy and not that warm – it’s very similar.”
Little was also feeling the benefits of some rest and relaxation after a demanding couple of months of competition.
“It’s a very nice start after two weeks off,” he said. “I’ve been in Finland – my wife is Finnish and we have a summer house there – so I’ve just been relaxing and playing with the children. I had a whole week of no golf the first week and the second week I practised a bit and played a couple of rounds.
“Last week when I played with friends I shot four or five under both times so I was pretty confident coming here.”
Johansen was very satisfied with his opening effort, commenting: “My aim was to put myself up there early on to have a chance of winning and that’s what I’ve done so I’m happy. It was tough out there as it was pretty windy and a couple of the par fours were playing so long that I had to use a three-wood for my second shot.”
Frenchman Benjamin Hebert won back to back titles in the Credit Suisse Challenge and the English Challenge before the fortnight’s break in the schedule, and did his chances of a hat-trick of victories no harm with a three under par 69.