Stuart Manley will take a one-shot lead into the final day of stroke play at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9 after carding a seven under par opening round of 64 in Spain.
The Welshman bagged nine birdies and two bogeys at the picturesque Valle Romano Golf, where impressive scoring was lighting up the course ahead of the weekend’s match play action – which will see the top 64 players compete in a series of nine-hole contests.
Manley carried his good form from last week’s 56˚ Open de Portugal @ Morgado Golf Resort where he led going into the final round.
Once again, the 39 year old moved to the top of the leaderboard with an impressive display which featured five gains in six holes around the turn – as well as a fine 15-foot birdie on the last – which sees him move one clear of England’s Matt Ford and Austria’s Markus Habeler after 18 holes.
After a difficult winter with injury, Manley is thrilled to see his golf hitting form at the right time and is excited at the prospect of competing in a match play event over the weekend.
“I played pretty solid. I got off to a bit of a poor start with a bogey on my second hole but after that I stayed patient and made some good putts,” he said. “I had a good run around the turn where I made four birdies in a row and then finished quite strong as well, which was pleasing.
“Hopefully I’ll qualify – fingers crossed – it should be good. I haven’t played much match play as a professional, so it’s quite exciting. I had a good match play record as an amateur but that was many moons ago, hopefully, this weekend will be quite good.
“I had a bad winter because I was injured so I didn’t actually practise that much. I had a good practise at the end of February with my coach in Portugal and that got me ready for the start of the season. I was a little bit rusty in Kenya but since then I’ve played really nicely.”
Hot on Manley’s heels is Englishman Ford, who shot his lowest round since 2015, a six under par 65, and Austria’s Habeler who also signed for a 65 on his European Challenge Tour debut.
The 25 year old won the Lignano Open on the Alps Tour in July 2017 and showed his craft and guile to card an impressive round of 65 to merit his invitation to the tournament.
“I’m very pleased. It’s my first Challenge Tour tournament – I got an invitation to play this week. I’m really happy with my performance today and let’s see what happens tomorrow,” he said.
Elsewhere Spanish trio Emilio Cuartero Blanco, Ivan Cantero Gutierrez and Alfonso Gutierrez are part of a five-man group tied for fourth on five under par. The Spaniards are the leading players from their home country’s contingent alongside Frenchman Jérôme Lando Casanova and Irishman Ruaidhri McGee.