François Delamontagne maintained the current joie de vivre surrounding French professional golf when he moved into a share of the lead with Thailand’s Chawalit Plaphol after the first round of the Volvo China Open.
The duo both posted excellent seven under par 65s at the tricky and testing Shenzhen Golf Club to move to the head of affairs in the co-sanctioned tournament between The European Tour and the Asian Tour, as well as establishing a share of the new course record on the recently altered layout.
In 2005 six Frenchmen, including Delamontagne himself, finished inside the top 70 on The European Tour Order of Merit with the highlights of the year coming when Jean-Francois Remesy held off Jean Van de Velde to win a memorable Open de France, while Raphaël Jacquelin took his maiden Tour title in October with victory in the Open de Madrid.
Indeed Delamontagne’s best finish of 2005 came in the selfsame Open de France where he finished tied fourth on his way to a career-high position of 68th on the Order of Merit, and the 26 year old Parisien-based golfer admitted he was continuing to ride the crest of a wave of French confidence.
“Every week there seems to be a French player challenging or in the top ten and that is good for everything and everyone,” he said. “Even in practice now on Tuesdays we have a lot of fun with all the other guys and we try to make a few birdies to beat each other.
“I think there are a lot of good coaches now in France which has helped and the French Federation have done a very good job too. We also have players with a lot of experience like Remesy, Jacquelin, Van de Velde and Thomas Levet so for a young player like me it is good to stick with these players and learn from them.”
Delamontagne certainly produced a level of golf all of his illustrious compatriots above would have been proud of in a sparkling opening to his 2006 season. In total he returned six birdies and an eagle three to offset his only dropped shot of the day at the second where he three putted, most of his birdie putts coming from close range after some stunning approach play.
Sharing pole position was Plaphol, who went one better than Delamontagne and posted two eagle threes on his card, the first coming at the 552 yard fourth hole where he fired a three wood to three feet, and the second coming at the 516 yard eighth hole where his four iron second shot finished a similar distance from the pin.
The 31 year old Thai golfer – a two time winner on the Asian Tour – was tipped by European Ryder Cup golfer Paul Casey in the run-up to the event as an Asian golfer worth looking out for after he finished third behind him in the TCL Classic earlier this year. And how the Englishman’s prophecy came true.
“It was good to hear that Paul still remembers me after we played together earlier this year,” he said. “I’ve been playing all right coming into the week and hopefully I can keep it going.”
The leading duo found themselves two shots clear of another European Tour / Asian Tour combination in a share of third place in the shape of England’s Barry Lane and his playing partner, another Thai golfer Boonchu Ruangkit who, between them, struck a blow for the game’s elder statesmen being a combined age of 94, Lane being 45 while Ruangkit is 49 and the oldest man in the field.
Any chance Lane had of becoming a little jaded with the game was removed by the enthusiasm for the game engendered by his new wife Camilla who took her support for her husband to a new level by caddying for him for the first time.
“It’s just for a couple of weeks,” he said. “It is just that she is down here with me and we can have a bit of a laugh and she can see what I’m like on the golf course, a grumpy old man!
“She doesn’t really say much but now she is starting to get a bit cocky and she is saying things like, “I think that’s a five iron.” But it is fun, if you hit a bad shot it doesn’t really matter because she is there smiling at you.
“We decided that were going to go out and enjoy ourselves so it has been good fun. The travelling can be hard at times but Camilla hasn’t travelled that much so she loves being out here which helps me. It is nice that she is so keen on the golf and everything and that makes my life a lot easier because she really enjoys it.”
Playing partner Ruangkit carded six birdies and only dropped one shot, the perfect antidote for an ultimately failed trip to the US Champions Tour Qualifying School last week which saw him just fail to get into the final stage as third reserve.
“That was disappointing but I will try again next year,” he said. “As for today, I scrambled a bit for a good score. I missed a few greens but I chipped and putted well and saved four pars that way. I’m really happy with my start as this golf course is difficult for me as it is rather long.”
Six players shared fifth place after four under par 68, the English trio of Andrew Butterfield, Miles Tunnicliff and Oliver Wilson, Australia’s Terry Pilkadaris, Johan Skold of Sweden and Scotland’s Simon Yates.
But it was not such a productive day for defending champion and last week’s World Cup winner Stephen Dodd along with Paul Casey, many people’s tip for the title this week, who both opened with one under par 71s.