Norwegian Joakim Mikkelsen made a stunning start to his 2014 Challenge Tour campaign with a course round of 63 on the opening day of the Challenge de Catalunya.
In a flawless display at Lumine Golf & Beach Club, in Tarragona, the 24 year old plundered eight birdies to set the pace on eight under par, one shot clear of France’s Adrien Saddier.
Mikkelsen, who putts one handed, notched three birdies on his front nine and added five more after the turn to post the lowest round of his fledgling Challenge Tour career.
He said: “Obviously it went pretty well, especially on my back nine, when I played spectacularly. This is my first event since November, and after that much time off, you never know what to expect. But this was definitely a better start than I expected.
“I was struggling with my putting, so I started exercising putting with one hand. It worked out well on the practice green so I said to myself, ‘why not try it on the course?’ And it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.”
Like Mikkelsen, Saddier – who earned a maiden European Tour card at the 2013 Qualifying School Final Stage – is making his first appearance in a regular Challenge Tour event this season.
The Frenchman, who finished in a tie for sixth place in the Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa on The European Tour, showed his class with five birdies and a closing eagle in a blemish-free round of 64.
He said: “I didn’t hit the ball that well but managed to hit it close, so I gave myself lots of birdie chances and holed most of them.
“I chipped in on the first and finished the round by chipping in for eagle, so my day couldn’t have ended any better. The course is really nice and in great shape, so I really enjoyed myself today.”
Connor Arendell also kept the bogeys off his card to share third place on six under par with Dutchman Robin Kind who, despite a double bogey at the eighth hole, matched the American’s round of 65.
Kind’s compatriot Maarten Lafeber, who is employing footballing legend Johan Cruyff as his caddie in northern Spain this week, is within sight of the lead after opening with a morale-boosting round of 66.
The former KLM Open champion, currently eighth in the Challenge Tour Rankings, lost his European Tour card after a disappointing campaign in 2013, but appears to be back on track after carding five birdies and eagle two at the sixth hole.
He said: “I’ve been good friends with Johan [Cruyff] for 15 years and we have always played together at the Alfred Dunhill Links in the past. He lives close to here, and decided to come and caddie for me.
“We talked a bit about football and whilst he obviously doesn’t give me advice on golf, we talk about other related sports, which helps me a lot with my mental attitude. It’s great to have him here with me.”