Three-time European Challenge Tour winner Robert Coles fired a sizzling five under front nine to storm into a share of the lead at the D+D Real Slovakia Challenge, courtesy of a seven under par opening round of 65.
The Englishman was joined at the top by Andrew McArthur after the Scot carded a bogey-free round at the stunning Penati Golf Resort, which is this week hosting Slovakia’s first major men’s professional tournament.
The Jack Nicklaus designed lay-out is certainly easy on the eye and Coles admitted that it very much played to his strengths on the opening day, especially the front nine, which he negotiated in 31 blows after four consecutive birdies helped him reach the turn in five under.
A bogey at the tenth hole briefly stunted his progress but he bounced back in impressive fashion with back to back birdies before finishing with a three at the picturesque par four 18th hole, which features an island green.
Coles was delighted to be in the mix again after a disappointing 12 months during which he dropped down a tier from The European Tour and, with the experience of a trio of titles under his belt on the Challenge Tour, he is confident he can keep up his good form for the rest of the week.
“The front nine was very good to me today,” said the 41 year old, who claimed two titles in 2009 en route to graduation to The European Tour.
“I made the most of everything in the first nine holes. I played the par fives well and holed a few putts when I got some chances. It was great to go out in five under.
“You get chances out there. The par fives are reachable, even though they’re tricky, and you’ve got a chance if you hit good shots. The course is in great condition, there are some really nice holes and it’s really well laid out. It’s just nice to be out there playing on a course like this.
“It’s the first time I've led a tournament for quite a while and any time you lead you can’t complain. I’m delighted.”
Having played three consecutive seasons on the top tier after graduating from the Challenge Tour for a second time in 2009, Coles admitted he suffered a frustrating time in 2013, missing 17 cuts in 28 events.
But having earned three top ten finishes already this season, including one at the D+D Real Czech Challenge – backed by the same sponsors as this week’s event – he feels he is on the path back to the kind of form which almost earned him a maiden European Tour victory at the 2011 Avantha Masters, where he eventually finished outright second.
“I think I'm getting there,” said the Londonder. “I struggled a bit last year and had a bad season. Then at the start of this year I struggled too, but the last month or two I've had a few top tens and I’m gradually feeling a bit more comfortable with what I'm doing.
“I just didn’t play very well and didn’t score well last year. On The European Tour they are very tough golf courses and you beat yourself up a bit so it’s a catch 22; you tumble and then you don’t think you can get back. So it’s nice to shoot some good scores.
“You never know what tomorrow is going to bring so I don’t want to say too much but obviously I'm very pleased with today.”
McArthur, who has divided his schedule between the Challenge Tour and The European Tour thus far this year, carded his best round of the season at the luxurious resort outside the town of Senica.
The 35 year old, whose sole Challenge Tour victory came at the 2008 Challenge de España, recorded birdies at the second, sixth and ninth holes to reach the turn in three under par before four birdies in the space of six holes, starting at the 11th, earned him a flawless 65 and a share of the lead.
Former European Tour winner Ross McGowan was one of four players just a shot off the pace on six under par after the Englishman carded eight birdies, including five in a stunning five under back nine, to sign for a six under par 66.
He was joined by consistent Frenchman Edouard España, who played alongside joint leader Coles, England’s Sam Hutsby and Finn Jaakko Makitalo.