England’s Sam Hutsby was in red hot form in the opening day’s play of the Qualifying School Final Stage at PGA Catalunya Resort, where he holds a three shot lead after shooting a stunning ten under par round of 60 on the Tour Course.
Hutsby had a chance to rewrite European Tour history at the par five 18th with a putt for an eagle and a round of 59 – a feat never before achieved on The European Tour – but despite only making birdie the 23 year old still secured his lowest round in tournament golf.
Hutsby, who finished 48th in the 2011 Challenge Tour Rankings, is looking to become one of at least 30 men to emerge from Girona next Thursday with a coveted European Tour card for next season and the Portsmouth-born man could not have asked for a better start to his quest after a sensational round featuring eight birdies and an eagle.
In almost perfect weather conditions in northern Spain, Hutsby laid siege to the shorter of the two layouts at PGA Catalunya Resort from the very outset of his first round, carding consecutive birdies on the opening three holes before adding another at the sixth hole.
Hutsby, who qualified for the Final Stage courtesy of a tied sixth place finish at last week’s Second Stage event at Costa Ballena Ocean Club, went one better at the 564-yard par five seventh, though, holing an eagle putt after finding the green in two blows to move to six under par through seven holes.
And after playing the front nine in 29 shots, Hutsby found four further birdies coming home, at the 11th, 13th, 14th and at the closing par five 18th hole, to complete a flawless first round.
Hutsby, who finished second behind his compatriot Simon Khan at the 2009 Qualifying School Final Stage, said: “I got off to a great start with three birdies in a row, and after that I just seemed to have the ball on a bit of string. I gave myself five or six chances other than the ones I took, so a 59 was on the cards.
“But you can never have the perfect round of golf, so I’ll probably just about take a 60! I really enjoy playing here, so even though it can be a stressful week, it’s good to come back here. Though obviously I would’ve preferred to have played well enough to get my card.”
Of the eagle putt Hutsby had to secure a record breaking round of 59, he added: “It was from a fair way out. I wasn’t sure whether to go for it or just lag it up to the hole, and in the end I probably got caught in two minds. I didn’t hit the best of putts and pulled it six feet left of the hole, so in the end I was quite pleased to sink the birdie putt for a round of 60.”
In 2010 Hutsby finished 118th in The Race to Dubai to lose his card by just one place, and credits his return to form to a coaching change.
“It’s been a tough couple of years since I got my card here in 2009. But I recently went back to my old coach [Martin Butcher] who I’d been with since a junior, and my game’s turned around. We’ve changed a few things and simplified my game, and my confidence is back up.
“I decided to make a few changes after turning pro to try to take my game to the next level, and it was probably a mistake. I should’ve stuck to the principles that had worked through my amateur career, but instead I tried to change a few things all at once, and ended up getting a bit lost.
“But now I’ve gone back to Martin and worked really hard with him, and I’m starting to get back to where I was. His philosophy is to get the fundamentals right, and hopefully the rest will take care of itself. I played well at the Second Stage last week, and I’ve carried that form here with me. It’d be nice to go one better than two years ago and win this week.”
Dutchman Tim Sluiter continued his own recent fine form and is in sole possession of second place after shooting an excellent seven under par 63.
Sluiter has looked in impressive touch of late, having travelled north to Girona on the back of victory at La Manga Club in the Second Stage of Qualifying School, and he continued his run of form today on the Tour course in a round that included six birdies and an eagle at the long tenth hole.
Sluiter said: “It was a lovely day. I was out relatively early and it was a little warmer today than the last few days so the ball was going a normal distance which made it easier for us. There was no wind so you could basically hit the number you wanted to hit.
“I played well. I’ve come out of the Second Stage playing really well and I swung the club really well and holed a few putts. I made eagle at the tenth and through my round I made a few birdies, so I’m happy. I had eight or nine feet for the eagle, so I had hit it close and that is nice as it is one of the scoring holes so it’s good to pick up an extra shot there.”
The Tour Course is traditionally known as the easier of the two layouts at PGA Catalunya Resort and that was reflected at the top of the first day leaderboard as the shorter course had most of the lower scores on day one.
American Patrick Reed is one shot back from Sluiter in third place after signing for a six under par 64, while eight men tie for fourth place on five under par, including previous European Tour players Englishman Benn Barham and Australian Andrew Tampion.
Barham said: “I played well today. I kept the ball in the fairway and managed to hole a few putts. I’ve been playing quite nicely for the past few weeks without really holing anything, so it made a nice change today, and hopefully that can continue for the rest of the week.
“The course is playing quite long because it’s fairly soft with all the rain they’ve had recently, but the greens were rolling beautifully. So it made for good scoring conditions, and luckily enough I was able to take advantage. Everyone says the Tour Course is the easier of the two, but I think if you’re playing well it doesn’t matter where you play, the game seems much easier.”
Meanwhile, on the tougher 7,172-yard Stadium layout, six players carded four under par rounds of 68 – including 2007 Challenge Tour Number One Michael Lorenzo-Vera and 19 year old Adrien Otaegui, the youngest player in the field this week – and all will be confident of making further strides when they transfer to the shorter Tour Course tomorrow.
“I played very nicely, not many mistakes, I was hitting fairways and greens and now I just want to keep working for the days ahead,” said Otaegui, who made birdies at the ninth, 11th, 15th and 18th holes.
“All parts of my game were good today. I was driving well, good irons and I putted quite well. I love the course, both courses are very good, especially this one. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve only practised here before, a month ago, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play here.”