Thanks chiefly to an explosive start which included holing a seven iron for eagle, Ross McGowan set the pace on seven under par alongside Steven Brown and Jamie McLeary on the opening day of the D+D Real Czech Challenge.
Despite suffering with a shoulder injury which restricts his movement, McGowan – who finished third in this tournament last year – signed for a round of 65 which was matched by his fellow Englishman Brown and Scotland’s McLeary as British players dominated the early leaderboard at Golf & Spa Kunetická Hora.
McGowan started the day with a visit to the Challenge Tour’s osteopath, and Poora Singh’s healing hands must have worked their magic as his patient flew out of the blocks with a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start.
The highlight was that approach from the rough to the 11th green, which skipped straight into the cup to ignite a charge which yielded a front nine of just 31.
McGowan’s back nine was not quite as spectacular, but he did add further birdies at the third and seventh holes to set the clubhouse target on seven under par.
McGowan, who returned to the winners’ enclosure after a fallow period with victory in the Zambia Open precisely one month ago, said: “That start was a little surprising, especially as I haven’t been hitting it very well for the past couple of weeks. To be honest, I spent most of the first few holes in the rough this morning, which just goes to show what a funny game golf is sometimes.
“I don’t feel I played that great today and yet I’ve walked off on seven under, then there have been plenty of days where I’ve walked off with a 75 and felt I actually played pretty well. But I guess it’s a good sign that I can score well even when I’m maybe not playing my best golf.”
McLeary credited a hot putter for a round of 65 which included no fewer than nine birdies in Drítec.
By his own admission, McLeary has struggled for form and confidence this term after a chastening experience on The European Tour last season but, having taken a week off to work on his putting and refresh his mind, the Scot rediscovered his touch on the greens to turn in his lowest round of the year.
He said: “I missed Austria last week to get away from the game and also try to rethink my approach, because I’ve been trying to control my ball too much instead of just playing my natural game. I gave myself a lot of chances, and strangely enough I missed a few short putts but made quite a few longer ones. So I’m not really sure if that’s a good or a bad thing! I’ve been struggling from 15 feet and in so far this season – my stats are showing I’m holing half as many putts as I normally would from that range.
“So I worked a bit on my putting during my week off, and I also tried to adopt a more positive mental approach. I’ve been getting quite down on myself this year, I got a few bad breaks in tournaments and it felt like the world was against me. So I’m trying to take the rough with the smooth, and maybe that paid off for me today.”
Despite bogeying both par fives on the front nine, Brown also signed for the lowest round of a season which, like McLeary’s, is yet to kick into top gear.
An opening birdie heralded the start of an eventful front nine which included just two pars, as he made four further gains and that pair of bogeys on the second and seventh holes to turn in 33.
The back nine was a more sedate affair, as the Englishman notched a quartet of birdies to make it a three-way tie at the top.
He said: “It’s been a while since I’ve had a round like that, because I haven’t been playing very well to be honest. So it made a nice change. I’ve missed two cuts already this year and even when I’ve made the cut, I haven’t played particularly well. But I went home on the Monday after Turkey – which I wasn’t planning on doing – but I was hitting it all over the place, so I knew I needed to work on a few things with my coach.
“We worked out the problem – basically I was getting far too steep – and since then it’s been a lot better. I’m still hitting the occasional bad shot, but I’m also hitting a lot more good shots and at least now I know where I’m going wrong, whereas before I didn’t have a clue. So that allows me to stay calm and patient and it also gives me a lot more confidence, which bodes well for the rest of the year.”
The Swedish duo of Björn Åkesson and Jens Fahrbring, English pair Daniel Gaunt – who finished runner-up last year – and James Robinson, and Frenchman Anthony Snobeck currently share third place on six under par after each signed for rounds of 66.
It was also a bittersweet day for Hungarian Roland Hahn, who aced the 17th hole but missed out on winning a Mercedes CLA 220 CDI, which is only available for a hole in one in rounds three and four.