There are no less that 42 players within three strokes of the lead on a jam packed leaderboard after the first round of the dual ranking Aa St Omer Open, with seven players in a share of first place after opening with scores of three under par 68 at the Aa St Omer Golf Club.
Neil Cheetham of England, Julien Clément of Switzerland, Martin Erlandsson of Sweden, Frenchman Raphael Eyraud, Iceland’s Birgir Hafthorsson, South African Hennie Otto and Per Nyman of Sweden could not be separated after round one, with a further eight players on two under, 12 on one under and 15 tied on level par.
It was tough day in Northern France with a strong, changeable wind affecting most of the first round play.
Of the seven leaders, Cheetham and Otto stood out with the most notable rounds for entirely different reasons – the Englishman putting together an excellent birdie-birdie finish to join the seven strong throng on three under, while the South African three putted his final two holes to drop back into the pack.
Cheetham, who has played in every one of the nine Aa St Omer Opens, was delighted with his finish. “It was very tricky today,” said the man who took second place at The European Tour’s season opening dunhill championship.
"I am very happy with three under to start off with. I played very solid and hit the ball great off the tee. I did miss a few putts but the greens are really tricky here. I think reading the greens and getting a good pace on the greens is the thing this week. With the undulations on the greens you get so many slow putts and quick putts, so getting the pace of the greens early on is very important here.
“I like the course here – I enjoy it and my ethos is that most players when they come to play here get frustrated with it because it is a frustrating golf course. So, if you can keep mentally intact and understand that you are going to make a few bogeys but there are birdie chances out there then you can do alright.”
Otto, who finished third at the 2005 Jazztel Open de España en Andalucia, was philosophical after dropping two stokes in his closing two holes. The South African, who led The 2003 Open Championship after the first round and eventually finished in 10th position at Royal St Georges that same year, was generally pleased to be in amongst the leaders after round one.
“I hit myself in the wrong places twice on the 17th and 18th and had putts up the slopes and down the slopes so if you hit it in the wrong place then you have to fight for it here,” he said. “But I would have taken a 68 this morning before going out there but it’s four rounds and tomorrow is another day.”
Among the 15 players on level under par is another man who once led the Open Championship, but perhaps more famously than Otto.
Frenchman Jean Van de Velde led the 1999 Championship at Carnoustie by three shots playing the 72nd hole only to take a triple bogey seven and then lose a play-off to Paul Lawrie.
Since then, Van de Velde has seen his career blighted by injury, but he continues to come back to the game he loves and put on a thrilling roller coaster of a display for the home crowds at the Aa St Omer Golf Club, putting together six birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey seven en route to his level par 71.