American Brooks Koepka continued his fine start to life as a professional golfer with a four under par 67 in the first round of the Finnish Challenge giving him a share of the lead.
Playing his fourth event since joining the paid ranks, Koepka set the benchmark before Englishman Matt Haines and Austrian Roland Steiner matched his score at Kytäjä Golf in southern Finland.
He finished tied seventh in the English Challenge last week on a sponsor’s invitation, which gained him entry to this week’s tournament, the first of three in the Nordic region.
“It was great out there,” said Koepka. “I really didn’t have any chances to make a bogey today. The only disappointment was that I played the par fives in level par, but four under is a good start.
“Things are going well so far and I’m having a great time. I played in the US Open as an amateur and then came over to Europe and turned professional.
“I’ve played okay so far, and I’m just hoping to improve every week and get the hang of it. I decided to come to Europe because I just wanted to play, and this gives me the best opportunity to do that and prepare for the Qualifying School at the end of the year. That’s the main goal.”
Haines was also tied seventh at Stoke by Nayland last week, and he has been showing some promising form of late having returned to the Challenge Tour after a disappointing rookie season on The European Tour last year.
“I did everything very steadily today,” said the 22 year old. “I drove the ball well and didn’t miss many fairways. And my short putting was good, so I holed out nicely. When I hit it to about ten to 12 feet, I managed to hole a few birdie putts.
“The course is very different from most courses we’ve played this year. Usually they are short and tight, but this is long and quite open. It’s wet as well, so the ball is just stopping, which means it is playing even longer. I like it.
“I started the season very shakily, but the last few weeks I’ve been playing better, although I haven’t quite managed to finish it off at the weekend. I can’t complain about coming back to the Challenge Tour after the way I played last year, but it was still a bit of a comedown. I’m playing better now though, and hopefully I can build on it in the second half of the season.”
Steiner, who represented Austria in the Mission Hills World Cup last year alongside fellow Challenge Tour player Florian Praegant, made a flying start to the first round, carding five consecutive birdies from the 12th.
He said: “I was playing really well and had a great start, but I made a stupid mistake on the 18th, my ninth, when I missed a putt from about 80cm.
“That stopped the flow and although I played well after that, I was not so confident on the greens. I missed two good chances at the first and second.
“I made a bad shot into the seventh which resulted in another bogey, but luckily I was able to finish well with a birdie at the last.”
England’s Chris Gane opened with a three under par 67, while seven players from the morning session, including Englishman Nick Dougherty, were another shot back at two under.