Robert-Jan Derksen continued in Madeira where he left off in Dubai, a five under par 67 taking him within one shot of the lead held by Jesus Maria Arruti after the delayed first round of the Madeira Island Open.
Derksen arrived in Madeira for his first tournament since his fairytale victory in the Dubai Desert Classic, still scarcely able to believe what he achieved in beating World Number Two Ernie Els for his maiden title. After a week of celebrations the 29 year old was not sure what to expect on his return to competitive action but found he was still riding the crest of a wave.
The start of the first round was delayed for three hours 20 minutes as a storm hit the spectacular Santo da Serra course but when play finally got underway Derksen wasted no time in making a move. After lipping out for a birdie on his first hole, the tenth on the course, the Dutchman eagled the very next hole after hitting a three iron to eight feet.
A birdie on the par three was offset by a bogey on the fourth but three birdies in his last five holes put him hot on the heels of Arruti.
“I was eager to go out this week and play,” said Derksen. “A lot of people asked why I didn’t take another week off but I like the course and thought it was better to get playing again as soon as possible. I have to play continuous golf. I didn’t have any expectations at all and it went my way today. It is nice to continue the form I had in Dubai.”
Derksen trails Arruti by one after the Spaniard produced a sparkling 66 which included eight birdies and two dropped shots, the last of his birdies coming from an eight metre putt from off the edge of the 18th green.
Arruti, whose two cousins play on the Ladies European Tour, has made 14 visits to the Qualifying School and was successful for the third time last November. Arruti hails San Sebastian, the same club as Jose Maria Olazabal, and clearly benefited from a few rounds with the double Masters Champion over the winter.
“I played well from tee to green and was able to see the lines on the greens,” he said. “I holed some long putts and also had some short opportunities.
“I think I can still do good things and have confidence in my game so hopefully last year will be the last time I have to go to the school.”
Switzerland’s Julien Clement, who turned professional after winning the last card at last year’s Qualifying School was two shots off the pace on four under par alongside Frenchman Julien Van Hauwe and England’s Andrew Sherborne.
Clement, 21, has played in three events since making the transition from the amateur ranks to the professional game, his best finish being joint 24th in Qatar last week.
“I had a good start, three under after seven, and after that I was just trying not to make any bogeys, hit the greens and make some putts. It’s a very nice course. It is not usual to play in mountains like this but I am from Switzerland so I am used to it and it is about the same as the course I play.
“It is different playing on Tour compared to amateur game. Now it is my job. I still enjoy golf, love golf but now it is more difficult to play for winning. As an amateur all tournaments I knew I could win but now it is tougher and the players are all very good. It is a different level.”
Sherborne is back in Madeira looking to regain the European Tour card he lost in 1999. The 1992 Peugeot Open de Espana champion enjoyed a fair slice of luck, particularly on the par three fourth where his tee shot seemed destined to disappear down the side of the mountain before it got caught up in the bunker at the back of the green. A holed bunker shot on the 13th also helped matters as he made his best start of the year.
At the end of last season Van Hauwe needed to finish first or second in the Challenge Tour Grand Final to climb into the top 15 and earn his card for The 2003 European Tour International Schedule. The former French Amateur Champion achieved it by finishing second and is now playing his rookie season on The European Tour. Five birdies and just the one bogey gave him a solid opening round of 68.
Only half the field were able to complete their opening rounds following the delay.