A remarkable turnaround in fortunes saw Filippo Bergamaschi grab the lead with a stunning round of 61 on the opening day of the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda.
The Italian is yet to record a top 100 finish in three appearances on the Challenge Tour so far this season, and failed to break 80 in his two rounds at last week’s Made in Denmark Challenge.
But in a vivid demonstration of the fickle nature of golf, Bergamaschi put his miserable run behind him in emphatic fashion with eight birdies and an eagle in a flawless display at Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein, where he finished in a tie for third last year.
His ten under par total gives Bergamaschi a one shot lead over American Daniel Im, who had posted a round of 62 earlier in the day.
Bergamaschi said: “I don’t know what it is about Austria, but I always seem to play well. I finished third here last year and second the year before, so I always enjoy coming back to this tournament.
“After last week in Denmark I definitely wasn’t expecting to play this well, but I went back to Italy at the weekend and didn’t touch my clubs, just spent some time my girlfriend which helped me relax and forget about golf for a while.
“It’s been a tough season so far, but hopefully I can put my bad start behind me and this round can be the start of good things to come. Today everything went my way and I even holed a bunker shot for eagle on the third, so I got some good breaks but you need that if you’re going to shoot a 61.
“My wedge play is one of my main strengths, and this course is fairly short so it really suits me. I also putted really well. After I holed a few putts the confidence came back and I felt like I couldn’t miss, so hopefully I can keep that feeling going for the rest of the week.”
Like Bergamaschi, Im was also on a recovery mission in Gödersdorf, having slumped to a round of 86 – which included nine visits to the water – on the final day in Copenhagen last week.
But he bettered that effort by 24 shots with a career-low round of 62 which featured a grandstand finish, with five straight birdies from the fifth hole.
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.”
Third place is shared between Scotland’s Wallace Booth and Swede Jens Dantorp, who both signed for rounds of 63.
Booth has endured a testing start to his campaign, having made just one cut in four appearances so far, but after returning to his native Scotland for an intensive session on the range with his coach, Ian Rae, he seems to have rediscovered the right formula.
Six birdies and an eagle three at the 16th hole for a round of 63 was a huge step in the right direction for the 29 year old, whose sister Carly finished in the top ten in Turkey on the Ladies European Tour last week.
He said: “My distance control with my irons has been way off this season, particularly in Denmark last week. I was hitting everything long, which is where you definitely didn’t want to miss. So I flew home to have a session with my coach at the weekend, we had a close look at how far I was hitting my irons and they were going further than I thought.
“So I had to make some readjustments with my club selection, and today was much more like it. I hit more greens in regulation after 13 holes than I’d hit over the first two rounds last week! So it took a lot of pressure off my putting, because I was putting for birdie most of the time instead of trying to save par and stay in the game.”
After a season of struggle on The European Tour which dented his confidence, Dantorp is trying to rebuild his career on the Challenge Tour.
The Swede, who graduated to the top tier in 2013 thanks in part to his victory in the Rolex Trophy, missed eight consecutive cuts at the end of last season – albeit his lacklustre form was compounded by a persistent back injury.
But having rediscovered his form and fitness after returning to Challenge Tour duty, Dantorp is now targeting a return to The European Tour.
He said: “Last year was a disaster, I probably shouldn’t have played with my back injury but when you’re trying to keep your card, you play through the pain and it only makes it worse. So it was very tough, but hopefully I have learned from the experience and it has made me stronger.
“I was trying too hard before, but now I’m doing my best to relax and let things happen naturally. Like most people I play my best golf when I feel relaxed, so that’s the plan this year.”