Daniel Im improved on his last competitive round by 24 shots with a career-low 62 on the opening day of the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda.
The American closed with an 86 in last week’s Made in Denmark Challenge, finding the water on no fewer than nine occasions on a torrid final day, but banished those painful memories with a quite stunning display at Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein, in Austria.
With two inches of overnight rain having softened the greens and with preferred lies in operation, Im made the most of the favourable conditions by blitzing the back nine – his front – in 31 courtesy of a quartet of birdies.
Some momentum-saving par saves then set up a grandstand finish, as Im closed with five straight birdies from the fifth hole to set the clubhouse lead on nine under par, two shots clear of his fellow American John Hahn.
Im said: “I wasn’t actually hitting it that well for the first few holes, but then I drained an 18-footer on 12 and that kick-started things. I then made a 25-footer on the 14th and a 15-footer on the 15th, which really got me going.
“I then made a few crucial up and downs to save par around the turn, which kept the momentum going. Then from the fifth hole onwards, I played perfectly. I almost eagled the ninth which would have been a great way to finish, but I can’t be too greedy – 62’s not bad!
“It’s a bit of a turnaround from Denmark last week, to say the least. The conditions were horrible that day, but today was perfect because there was no wind and the greens were soft from the rain, so I was able to get it pretty close to the hole.
“It’s great to see John [Hahn] up there, we’ve got two know each other very well over the last couple of years and he’s a good guy, so it’d be nice if we could keep it going for the rest of the week.”
Hahn echoed those sentiments after signing for a 64, which marked only his second sub-70 round of the season.
The Florida resident, who lost his playing privileges on The European Tour after a 120th place finish in The 2014 Race to Dubai, is no stranger to feats of low scoring, having shot a 58 in the fourth round of the Qualifying School Final last year.
Hahn finished in the top 15 on his maiden Challenge Tour outing of the campaign last week, where the wind and rain disrupted his rhythm, but the 26 year old felt much more at home in the calm conditions in Gödersdorf.
Hahn said: “It feels like home here to me, the blend of grass on the greens is the same as I grew up playing in Ohio, so I feel really comfortable out there. I made a nice long putt for birdie on the seventh but other than that most of my putts were from inside 15 feet, so it was a solid day’s work.
“Last year was a real education for me, I didn’t want to get burned out but in the end I probably went too far the other way and didn’t play enough. If I’d added a few tournaments I could’ve kept my card, because I didn’t miss by much. You live and you learn, and I’m sure I’ll be better prepared for it next time.
“But in the meantime, I’m very happy to be playing on the Challenge Tour. It’s a great Tour and I don’t really mind where I play, I’m just excited to be out there competing. I’ve got a six week stretch coming up, so hopefully I can get on a run and keep the momentum going.”
With the afternoon starters yet to complete their rounds, a whole host of players currently share third place on six under par.
They include playing partners Sebastian Gros and Jorge Simon de Miguel, who traded birdies like prized fighters in a scintillating display, covering the back nine in a combined 59 shots.
Gros covered the last four holes in five under par – thanks partly to an eagle on the 16th – to race home in 30 shots, whilst Simon de Miguel went one lower courtesy of four birdies and an eagle on the 12th, where he chipped in from 25 metres.
Gros said: “I can’t remember playing four holes in five under before, so it was nice to finish like that. I enjoyed playing with Jorge, it always helps to motivate you when one of your playing partners is going well.”
Simon de Miguel said: “I play my best golf when I’m talking with my playing partners, and because Sebastian speaks a little Spanish it really helped me. Hopefully I can play with him every week!
“It was a slow start, but I really got it going on the back nine. I’ve never played a nine in 29 since turning pro, so I’m very happy. It’s been a bad season so far, my scoring has been poor so it’s nice to turn things around. I have seven invitations to play on the Challenge Tour through the Spanish Federation, so I want to make the most of them.
“I’ve been playing mainly on the Alps Tour, and the standard on the Challenge Tour is much higher. Out here you have to play very well just to make the cut, but it’s a great experience for me and I can only improve by playing with good players.”