Australian Brett Rumford signalled a return to form by shooting an outstanding 64, seven under par, at St Omer Golf Club to open up a two stroke advantage over the field after the first round of the Aa St Omer Open.
Seven birdies, including five in succession from the eighth, without a dropped shot, took the 25 year old clear of Argentina’s Cesar Monasterio and Swede Mattias Eliasson after the opening day of the dual ranking event in Northern France.
Rumford burst onto the scene when he won the 1999 ANZ Championship as an amateur. He turned professional the following year and immediately earned a place on The European Tour through the Qualifying School. In 2001, his first year on Tour, everything seemed to be progressing nicely as he finished second in the Sao Paulo Brazil Open on his way to 57th in the Volvo Order of Merit.
But his form took a turn for the worse last year and for the first time he found himself on Tour without his brother, Mitch, on the bag. He slipped to 132nd in the Volvo Order of Merit, prompting a return to the Qualifying School where, despite an opening 62, nine under par, in the opening round he missed out on earning his card by a single stroke.
Now he is back on the Challenge Tour and looking for the victory this week which will take him straight back among Europe’s elite.
“I had a few changes last year,” said Rumford. “This game is more than just teeing it up and going out and playing. I am still only 25 and last year was a tough year for me. My brother, Mitch, stopped caddieing for me and it was my first full year where I was independent out there on myself and that took its toll. When I was playing I really didn’t want to be out there.
“It is a long way to come to the other side of the world with no family. Your game starts to go backwards as you are not mentally geared up to play and then you get a snowball effect of negativity that goes through your head. It is just taken me a while to filter hat and get back to playing golf.”
Rumford started to turn things around by finishing fifth in Fortis Bank Challenge Open and then finished 56th tied last week in The Daily Telegraph Damovo British Masters. Now he has his sights set on regaining his card without having to go to Qualifying School so he can be the Best Man at his brother’s wedding in November.
For much of the day Monasterio held the clubhouse lead after an opening 66. The Argentine golfer appeared to be on the bring of a maiden victory at the start of the year when he led the Challenge Tour’s opening event, the Costa Rica Open, presented by Credomatic MasterCard, by five strokes with nine holes to play only to let the title slip through his fingers and subsequently lose a play-off.
Since then he has been a model of consistency on his first visit to Europe and is currently 12th in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
He was joined on 66 by Eliasson, who graduated from last year’s Qualifying School but has only made two cuts this season. But returning the course where he finished fourth last year his game clicked.
“I’m very pleased with that,” he said. “I have struggled this year. Don’t know why as the game feels pretty good each week but I can’t seem to be able to take it on the course. I was pleased today because after I bogeyed the 15th and then saved par on the 17th, instead of losing it, I managed to turn it around with a birdie on the 18th. I have not been able to turn things around like that this season. Definitely holed a few more putts today, especially on the fifth to seventh. I’ve not changed anything but it just seemed to click today.
“This is a big opportunity as someone will get a year exemption. I like this course and finished fourth here last year so feel I know it well. A couple of spots better than last year would be nice.”
Former England International Denny Lucas, who hails from the same Worksop Golf Club as Mark Foster and Lee Westwood, was a further shot back on four under par.