Fresh from a family holiday in Egypt, Daniel Gaunt climbed to the top of the leaderboard on the opening day of the Rolex Trophy with a career-low round of 63.
Just as the Australian cricket team made hay while the sun shone during the fifth Ashes test, so Gaunt enjoyed himself at a sun-soaked Golf de Genève with nine birdies in a flawless display which bettered by one his previous lowest round on the Challenge Tour.
Gaunt has endured a hit-and-miss campaign on the Challenge Tour so far this year, with one victory at the Telenet Trophy and a top ten finish in St Omer interspersed with five missed cuts.
But after holidaying with his family in Egypt last week, the man from Melbourne rediscovered his form in spectacular fashion, notching four birdies on the front nine and adding a further five after the turn to end the day on nine under par.
Gaunt is currently two shots clear of the Spanish duo of Agustin Domingo and Adrian Otaegui and American Brinson Paolini, who carded rounds of 65 on the opening day of the elite 42-man event, which is again played in a Pro-Am format.
Gaunt said: “It was a great day. This format is good for me, because I can get frustrated and uptight on the course but playing with the juniors and amateurs really helps me to relax, and it’s nice for the juniors to play with pro golfers to get them used to the levels they need to aspire to if they’re going to make it in the game.
“I played really well today, I only hit one or two ordinary shots and anytime I was out of position, I managed to recover. Coming into the week I felt really fresh – putting the clubs away helped me to re-assess and free my mind, and I came back from holiday refreshed and raring to go again. I’d been playing quite well recently, so it’s been frustrating to miss so many cuts. But you know there’s no cut this week, so that automatically helps you to relax.
“I play my best golf when I don’t overthink things too much, I just hit the ball find it and hit it again. It sounds so simple to say, but it’s much harder to do. Today was like the good old days and I really enjoyed it, so if I can keep the same attitude for the next three days I should be in with a decent shout of picking up my second win.”
Domingo and Otaegui are still searching for their first victories, but after notching 15 birdies and an eagle between them, the pair will feel confident of ending their drought this week.
Like Gaunt, Domingo used the one-week break in the Challenge Tour schedule to spend some quality time with his family, and he duly reaped the benefits of his R&R with a vastly improved performance.
Domingo climbed to seventh places in the Rankings on the back of his top ten finish in St Omer in June, but since then a series of missed cuts has seen the Spaniard slip out of the top 20.
But after recharging his batteries in Menorca with wife Isabel last week, the 32 year old arrested his recent slump with eight birdies – including four in a row from the 16th hole.
Domingo said: “I hit two good shots into the par five [15th hole], then made good putts on 16 and 17 – from about three metres and eight metres – and hit a great approach shot into the last. So it was a very good finish to a solid round, which was much needed because I haven’t been playing very well recently.
“My holiday helped me clear my head and forget about golf, which I needed to do. I had been trying too hard and forcing it instead of letting things happen, but after the break I feel a lot more relaxed.
“It also helps that I have my wife [Isabel] here with me this week, which helps me switch off because we don’t really speak about golf in the evenings. And I love this country – I’m half Swiss, so I feel at home in Switzerland because I spent a lot off time here when I was growing up.”
Domingo was mentored through his formative years by his uncle Domingo Hospital, a European Tour stalwart who now plies his trade on the Senior Tour; whilst José María Olazábal fulfils a similar role for Otaegui who, like the 2012 Ryder Cup-winning Captain, was born and raised in Spain’s Basque region.
Otaegui is in regular telephone contact with Olazábal, and he showed some of his mentor’s deft touch around the greens with a sparkling round of 65 which included a chip-in eagle two at the fourth hole.
He said: “It was a beautiful day and the course is in great shape, the greens were nice and receptive and I managed to take advantage of the perfect conditions. My only two bogeys were both three-putts from long range, but other than that I was very solid from tee to green.
“It’s my first-time here, and so far I’m really enjoying it. It’s great to play a different format, it makes a nice change and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week now.”
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