Julien Guerrier finished with a flourish en route to a six under par first round of 65 at the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open, earning the Frenchman the overnight lead as he aims to become the first home winner of the event since 2001.
At a sun-drenched Aa Saint Omer Golf Club in northern France, the Lyon player shone brightly despite opening with a bogey, and finished with a birdie and an eagle to climb three shots clear of a five-strong chasing pack.
Having teed off at the par four tenth, Guerrier got off to a faltering start, three-putting for a five, but picked up his dropped shot straight away with a birdie at the following hole. Back to back birdies at the 14th and 15th holes took him to the turn in two under and it remained that way until the sixth, his 15th hole.
The former Amateur Champion then embarked on a stunning run of holes as he picked up shots at the sixth and eighth before a splendid second shot into the par five ninth from the rough left him with a 25 foot eagle putt and the 28 year old rolled it in with aplomb.
“I'm very happy with how I played today,” said Guerrier, the son of a former professional footballer. “The start of my season has not been good apart from a third place in Madeira. I’ve missed a few cuts and I don’t usually miss many cuts.
“It’s good for me to be up there but it’s only the first round and the road is long. I finished well with the birdie and eagle at the last two but I had missed a few short putts.
“I think everybody is missing short putts out there but it makes a difference when you hole a couple of big ones and I did that.
“We have been really lucky with the weather this year because normally it rains a lot. I think it’s the best week we’ve had here in a long time. The course is in great condition.
“I didn’t really expect this good round because the confidence hasn’t been there recently. I played pretty solid last week in Spain but I had 35 and then 32 putts so it’s difficult to make a good score with that.
“Every round I was having three-putt bogeys and double-bogeys and when that happens it’s difficult to stay focussed. I'm very happy with what I’ve done today and we’ll see what happens for the rest of the week.”
The course, located less than 30 minutes from the ferry town of Calais and just outside the town of Saint Omer, has been widely praised this week as being in the best condition it has ever been in and Guerrier admitted that the stunning weather makes the challenging lay-out a lot easier to enjoy.
“You need to be patient out there,” he said. “Just aim for the middle of the greens because you will have some difficult shots in. It depends on the weather. If the wind is blowing it’s a completely different course. Today the wind blew a little bit but it’s perfect weather for here.”
A trio of Scots and a pair of Englishmen lay three shots off the pace heading into Round Two as Scott Henry, David Law and Duncan Stewart of Scotland all signed for three under par rounds of 68 to share second place, alongside Australian-born Englishman Daniel Gaunt and compatriot Chris Hanson.
“I dried up a little bit on the back nine but to come in leading the tournament feels good. You’ve got blind shots into the greens, putts that break 20 feet and greens where you could putt it off the surface or into a bunker – everything is just tough. You really have to place it well on the greens and if you don’t, good luck!
"My confidence is quite good at the moment. My short game is probably the key factor. I had been struggling with that for quite a while and I've worked so hard to get it right and get some confidence with it. My wife is expecting another baby in September so life is good at the moment.”