Daniel Gaunt, Victor Riu and Duncan Stewart drew on their past experience around Aa Saint-Omer Golf Club as they opened with six under par rounds of 65 to lead the Najeti Open after day one, despite afternoon thunderstorms delaying play for three hours.
On the European Challenge Tour’s first of three visits to France this season, the home crowds were thrilled by one of their own as Riu rose up the leaderboard with a bogey-free opening 18 holes, featuring an eagle and four birdies.
Stewart, winner of the Challenge de Madrid last month, also avoided any dropped shots, his six birdies coming as something of a surprise to the Scot after a miserable practice this morning.
“If somebody on the range had said to me I’d shoot level par before I went out, honestly I’d have taken it,” said the 32 year old. “I’ve been struggling and I was awful before my round this morning, but sometimes you practise badly and then are good on the course.
“I managed to get it round and play good golf without hitting any really good shots. I couldn’t hit it hard so I just had to nudge it round and I putted fantastically. It was a bit of a surprise but it’s a nice one.
“Putting well around here is important but I actually think it’s more about missing the greens in the right places because they’re so sloped – sometimes being 20 feet off the green is better than being six feet above the hole.
“I’ve played here the last couple of years and it’s a very tricky course where it’s all about giving yourself chances, not leaving yourself with downhillers, putting it in the right places – there’s a few times where you’re hitting shots not to get to the flag, to keep it short.
“The greens are fantastic, it’s probably up there with some of the best greens we’ve played on, and this course is the best condition I’ve ever seen it. We had perfect weather this morning too so it was almost as easy as this place is going to play, and it was nice to get a good score.
“You’ve got to be patient around here and be in the right frame of mind, and my head was in the right place before I went out even though I was hitting it poorly, I knew that I could get it round and put it in the right places to give myself chances.”
It's the trickiest course of the year on Challenge Tour - it's a bit like our Augusta
Riu echoed these thoughts, acknowledging that a return to form in his short game could not have come at a better time given the testing nature of the greens in Lumbres.
“I’ve played here many times, I think about five – I’m getting old!” said the 31 year old. “But that knowledge helps a lot on this course because I think it’s the trickiest course of the year on Challenge Tour.
“The greens are so tricky so I think you have to know your way around – it’s a bit like the Augusta of the Challenge Tour! The greens and fairways are so sloped so it helps to know your way around this course.
“I’m feeling very good with my game and I’m looking to carry on. I was struggling a bit with my short game but now it’s getting much better and I can see the scores are getting better as well.
“Of course you want to play well in France. When you do well in your home country, you can feel people are looking for the French guys and that’s a nice feeling.”
Australia’s Gaunt was similarly blemish-free, the six birdies in his round of 65 merely a continuation of the fine form that brought him a top five finish at the recent D+D REAL Czech Challenge.
Portugal’s José-Filipe Lima was one shot behind after an opening round of 66, including birdies at each of his first three holes, while Thomas Detry continued the eye-catching start to his professional career with a 67, the Belgian tied for fifth alongside Sweden’s Krister Eriksson and Andrea Pavan of Italy.