Nicolas Vanhootegem fired a super six under par 66 that included an eagle two at the par four seventh hole to take a one stroke lead after the first round of the dual ranking European Tour/Challenge Tour BMW Russian Open after heavy rain had delayed play by two hours.
The Belgian, who started from the tenth tee, has struggled with his putting all season but found his way on the greens in fine style – registering 27 putts for his round, and only 12 on his back nine to come home in five under, 31.
“I’m really pleased with how I played,” said the 30 year old. “My back nine was especially good, which was the front nine today but I came back in five under and finally holed some putts. I had two good birdie putts on par fives and then I holed from eight metres on the third and fourth.
“I had an eagle two at the seventh as well. I took a nine iron and knew it was going to be really close if not in the hole – but it’s always nice when they go in! I think it bounced once and the jumped in. It was also really nice to finish with a birdie on the ninth to get to six under.
He continued, “This year I’ve actually played really well but putted badly. Now I’m trying to putt with a bit more feeling. I had been concentrating too much on the line of my putts and just being a bit too tense over the ball. Now I’m trying to keep it a bit more loose and putt with a bit more freedom.”
Scotsman Steven O’Hara, meanwhile, went from clubless wonder to serious contender by shooting a five under par 67 to join the group of eight players who are sitting one behind leader Vanhootegem.
O’Hara arrived at the Moscow Golf and Country club without any equipment having been told his bags were missing at Heathrow airport, and only took delivery of the clubs ten hours before he was scheduled to tee off.
That meant the 2001 Walker Cup player couldn’t get any practice before setting foot on the 7174 yard par 72 course, but, as he freely admitted, it couldn’t have worked out better.
“My clubs arrived about two o’clock in the morning today and it was a big relief because I had been told that the clubs were lost at Heathrow airport so to get them was brilliant,” said the 23 year old.
“I didn’t get much practice but I think that must be the secret to playing well. I borrowed some clubs yesterday but I didn’t have my golf shoes or anything with me so I was slipping all over the practice ground and there was no point in it so I wasn’t out there for that long. So that’ll be me from now on – no practice before tournaments, I think I’ve cracked it!”
There are another eight players on five under. Gianluca Baruffaldi, Mark Davis, Johan Edfors, Jean Louis Guepy, Pehr Magnebrant, Christophe Pottier, Joakim Rask and Marcello Santi all joined O’Hara one shot behind Vanhootegem.
With 12 players just two strokes off the pace, it is sure to be an extremely competitive race to capture the BMW Russian Open title.
Tournament favourite Andrew Coltart is sitting among the 16 strong band of players on three under. The Scot, who currently lies 31st on the Volvo Order of Merit, was pleased with his first round, considering the conditions underfoot were so wet that preferred lies were in play.
“I played lovely,” said the 33 year old. “I played really nice despite leaving a couple of shots out there but we’ll take that because of the conditions and the wetness underfoot as well as the delay this morning.
“The scoring has been pretty low but that’s because it’s target golf really. That’s the thing – if it was bouncy and firm it would be a different story. It’s because guys can hit it at the flags and I think that’s why you’re seeing those kinds of scores.
“But I’d love to see this event on The European Tour Schedule because they look after us brilliantly here. It’s a great hotel and a great golf course. It’s just a shame about the weather just now but I think this would be a fantastic venue for the Tour.”
With the provisional cut currently one under par, everyone in Russia will be praying that 17 year old Dimitry Vinogradov can maintain his exceptional form to make the weekend after his 71. The amateur player is a product of the youth academy that is run at Le Meridien Moscow Golf and Country club.