Robert Coles credited his Irish lineage to his remarkable form on the Emerald Isle as the Englishman moved into the first round lead at the Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort.
Coles is the de facto defending champion this week, having beaten Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts in a play-off on the Challenge Tour’s last visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2009, and he admitted that his love for his mother’s native land was a factor as he picked up from where he left off six years ago with a seven under par opening round 65 at the pristine Carlow parkland.
The 43 year old’s victory in nearby County Kildare was his last of three Challenge Tour wins but he moved into the driving seat to add a fourth title to his repertoire as he opened up a two-shot gap at the top of a packed leaderboard.
Having teed off at the tenth, the two-time Challenge Tour graduate embarked on a run of five birdies in six holes from the 12th, with a bogey at the 16th meaning he reached the turn in four under, before further gains at the fifth, seventh and eighth holes moved him to the front.
“My mother is Irish so maybe that’s got something to do with my good form here,” said Coles. “I suppose it’s just luck that it’s worked out like that. I did think of 2009 this week, but I certainly didn’t realise I was in some way the defending champion.
“I am quite proud of my Irish roots. My mum lives in west Cork and all of my in-laws are Irish. I’m married to a girl called Sinéad too so there’s a strong connection there. I am proud of that.
“I got on a little run and the putter was very kind to me. I hit a couple of good shots and really putted well on that back nine. I holed some good putts. I hung on a bit at the turn and then made another couple of putts, then I had a good up and down on nine to save par.
“The par fives are reachable for most so you’re going to have some chances there, and there are some good holes that you need to save par. You have some chances and on the other end you have a few tough holes that you just want to get through. It’s a good mixture.
“It’s a great event here, there’s been a really good atmosphere, we had a great time at the Pro-Am, a fantastic dinner on Tuesday and the buzz is really good around the place. I think everybody’s enjoying it.”
Four players sat two shots off the pace on five under par, including promising young French amateur Romain Langasque, the reigning Amateur Champion. The 20 year old has had a summer to remember, making the cut at The Open at St Andrews, and he has been enjoying himself in just his third Challenge Tour appearance.
“My game was really good today,” said the Cabris player. “I was driving really well so I was on almost every fairway – I think I just missed one – and that’s very important on this course. You can make a lot of birdies if you get on the fairway.
“If you’re in the right position on the fairway you can get the right yardage and the greens are quite soft so you can get a lot of backspin.
“I am really enjoying it here. I have to play on the Challenge Tour because I’m not guaranteed to go directly on The European Tour. It’s a good way to learn about your competition and play alongside some really good players.
“The amateur and professional games are very different. When I arrived here at this tournament I know all of the French guys but I don’t know anyone else.
“When I arrived at amateur events I would know everybody, but here if there are no French guys on the putting green, I don’t know anyone. That’s the big difference for me.
“My driving is really good so I have to keep driving it well and if I do that, I think it will be a good week for me. But I’m just going to try to do my best on every shot and have an enjoyable time.”
Daniel Im was another man tied for second place after the American proposed to his girlfriend in Rome last week, as were Welshman Stuart Manley and Northern Irishman Richard Kilpatrick.