Argentina’s Estanislao Goya made light work of testing conditions in northern Spain to claim a two shot lead following the first round at the Qualifying School Final Stage at PGA Catalunya Resort.
After a steady, if unspectacular, front nine on the resort’s 6,610-yard par 70 Tour Course on which Goya made two birdies and a bogey to turn in 34, the 24 year old from Cordoba made a remarkable eagle on the par five tenth – a strike that proved the fillip for a highly impressive back nine in an increasingly influential wind that was gusting up to 25 miles per hour at times to eventually finish with a six under par 64.
Goya, who won the 2009 Madeira Islands Open – Portugal in his first of four successive years in the top tier of European golf, pulled his drive way left at the 491-yard par five tenth, leaving a difficult approach to the green. An outstanding approach followed – an effort that finished at the back of the green – before the former Challenge Tour graduate rolled in a monstrous eagle putt from at least 60 feet to light the blue touch paper on his homeward nine.
A further birdie followed shortly after at the 13th hole before another sizeable birdie putt – this time of around 25 foot – at the short 16th preceded a perfect finale as Goya capped off a fine round with a sixth birdie of the day at the 18th.
“I played very nicely today, didn’t miss many shots and managed to hole some putts so it was very good,” said Goya, who finished just four places away from retaining his European Tour card after finishing in 123rd place in The Race to Dubai.
“The eagle was definitely a highlight because of what led to it so it was a real boost at that time. That and the long one at 16 were two putts that gave me a lot of confidence. But overall I just played very nicely, I hit a lot of fairways and greens which is obviously the main thing here.”
After finishing 94th, 99th and 98th in his previous three seasons on The European Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour in 2008, Goya made a sound start to the 2012 season with a tied sixth finish in the Avantha Masters in February and a tied ninth place at the Sicilian Open in April.
However, a barren run of eight missed cuts in 12 events in the middle of year saw him slip down and narrowly miss out on keeping his card despite a valiant effort at the SA Open Championship last week.
Goya, though, is keen to take the positives from his performance in South Africa, and is approaching the Qualifying School challenge with refreshing optimism.
He reflected: “To be honest I just didn’t get the right tournaments; I couldn’t get into the last tournaments in Singapore or Hong Kong but I played very nicely in South Africa and was just two strokes too short.
“I didn’t putt very well, though - I averaged 32 putts for the week and didn’t get the job done but it did help with my confidence. but I’m still playing well so I’m confident and feel good for the next five rounds.”
On a day when course co-designer, European Tour winner and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, Angel Gallardo remarked, “Anything that is par or better on the Stadium Course today is muy, muy bien,” Mikael Lundberg rode the ever-strengthening wind to sign for a superb four under par 68 on the brutal Stadium layout to lie second alongside Scotland’s George Murray.
The Swede, who lives with his family just 60 miles south of PGA Catalunya Resort in the region’s capital of Barcelona, got off to the perfect start in his eighth appearance in the Final Stage with a birdie at the first hole, his first of six on a round that was only slightly soured by a three-putt bogey – his second dropped shot of the day – on the 18th to finish.
“I don’t set goals at something like this; you just play and try to stay as relaxed as possible,” said Lundberg, who was one of only seven players out of 78 to finish under par for the day on the Stadium Course.
“You don’t want to be here but now I am I just have to make the best of it. My game hasn’t been that good the last month or so, so I’m just happy it’s starting to come together now.
“It was very tough out there, but I played really solidly and made a few good putts at the beginning and then holed my bunker shot on the 11th. It was unfortunate the way I finished, but overall it was a good round and I’m in a good position.”
Murray, who finished the 2011 season in 81st place in The Race to Dubai thanks largely to a tied third place finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, fired an excellent 66 on the Tour Course to take a share of second place in his first appearance at the Final Stage since 2009.
The Anstruther man fired five birdies and one bogey but after finishing the season 155th in the Rankings, Murray stressed the need for perspective so early in the marathon contest in Spain.
“It’s a nice start, it was very windy at times so it wasn’t easy at all out there,” he said. “I got off to a good start with a regulation birdie at my first, the tenth, then I picked up another shot on the 12th.
“I got lucky on the 18th, where my drive could easily have bounced out of bounds but just stayed in bounds. So that was a lucky break, and I made the most of it with three more birdies on my back nine.
“I can’t really put my finger on where it’s gone wrong for me this season, I just haven’t really got going, but hopefully I’ve turned a bit of a corner today. There’s obviously still a long way to go though, so I’m not going to get carried away just yet.”
The 156-man field is split over the two immaculate courses at PGA Catalunya Resort over the first four days, playing two rounds on each of the Stadium and Tour courses, before a cut at 70 plus ties precedes 36 nail-biting holes on the Stadium Course as the race to claim one of the 25 cards on offer for The 2013 European Tour International Schedule reaches its climax.