Thursday, 03 July 2014
Bjorn Akesson  (Getty Images)
Bjorn Akesson (Getty Images)

At the top of a congested leaderboard after round one of the Aegean Airlines Challenge Tour by Hartl Resort is the Swedish pair of Björn Åkesson and Joel Sjöholm after six under par scores of 66 on Thursday.

They are one stroke clear of a chasing twosome that includes French rookie Cyril Bouniol and five time Challenge Tour winner Sam Little, while Italy’s Matteo Delpodio is a further shot adrift in fourth spot alongside the Czech Republic's Ondrej Lieser.

Åkesson’s fine form comes off the back of an impressive display last week in Scotland, after four rounds in the 60s saw the Malmo man finish in a tie for sixth. That, as well as a tie for fifth at the Turkish Airlines Challenge, have seen him climb to 20th on the Rankings, and his fine play today came despite misplacing his putter a fortnight ago.

“I played very solid the whole day and putted really well,” said Åkesson. “I actually switched putters this week as I lost my old one in a rental car a couple of weeks ago, but it has been a good choice, and perhaps it was a good thing that I lost the other one.

“I hit a lot of greens today, and putted well, apart from the 16th where I made a double. I hit it left off the tee and lost a ball, then almost saved it with a one and half metre putt for bogey, but it just missed. I am happy with the round though, it was very solid.

“I came here with lots of confidence from last week as I shot four good rounds, none that were really low, but no bad ones, so it feels good this week. I’m certainly a better player having played on The European Tour last year, as you get some great experiences watching those guys.

“There is a difference between here and The European Tour, but it is not as big as everyone might think, as there are really good players on the Challenge Tour and it is really hard to win. You have to shoot four really low scores each week, but I am playing really good and I’m looking forward to the rest of this tournament and the season.”

Alongside Åkesson is compatriot Sjöholm, who seems to be finding his feet of late, having had a tricky start to his return to the Challenge Tour in 2014.

It was an up and down day for the Gothenburg native, having carded a double bogey at the fifth, as well as an eagle at the par five tenth. Seven birdies and a solitary bogey all added up to a six under par total though, which has him handily placed to improve on his best finish of the season, a tie for fifth at the Fred Olsen Challenge de España.

“Normally my scorecards are fairly roller coaster, and it was the same again today,” said the 2010 Challenge Tour graduate. “I actually played fantastic golf the first four holes, and I thought I was going to have a great start, then I lost a ball at the fifth and made a double bogey.

“I started playing well again after that though, very steady, and holed some good putts. I was also hitting the ball in the right spots when I missed it, and when I hit the good shots I was rewarded.

“I’ve simplified things this season and it is showing more and more in my play, but this is only one round. It feels really good right now, I’m not going to lie about that, but golf can be a brutal sport sometimes. It has started feeling better and better though, and my confidence on the course is coming back, and I’m having a lot of fun.”

Bouniol, who has been based in America for the past eight years, bounced back from three missed cuts in a row to card a 67 in the first round.

The Frenchman has been struggling a little with illness and a shoulder injury of late, but after a return stateside he is ready to get back to playing his best, and continue the form that has seen him register two top ten finishes so far this year.

“Coming here was a slightly weird feeling, as I have been playing great, but missed three cuts in a row,” said the 26 year old. “I was just trying to put together a simple game plan today, to not hit shots I wasn’t comfortable with, especially off the tee.

“I shot five under, was bogey free, and played really solid. I’m very happy with how I managed myself out there, it maybe wasn’t my greatest golf but I got the job done, and that is what it is all about.”

Barclays Kenya Open winner Jake Roos got his quest for a second title of the season off to a fine start in Bavaria thanks to a three under par score on Thursday, which has the South African in a tie for sixth after 18 holes.

The only multiple winner of the season so far, Moritz Lampert, also began well at home in Germany. He carded an opening round of 70 to lie in a tie for 16th at two under par, and with a third win here this week he would graduate automatically to The European Tour.

However, Rankings leader Jordi Garcia Pinto did not fare so well on day one, carding a round of 75 on Thursday to finish in a tie for 103rd.

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