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Thursday, 23 November 2006

As Australia dominated the opening day of the first Ashes Test against England in Brisbane, amateur golfer Aaron Pike, a former cricketer who once dreamed of being the next Shane Warne, showed his decision to turn to golf was a good one as a stunning opening 64 gave him the lead after the first round of the MasterCard Masters.

The burly 21 year old’s eight under par effort equalled the course record at the Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne and saw Pike produce the best amateur performance on The European Tour since Frenchman Eric Chaudouet led after the first round of the Open de France in June 2003.

Pike moved one shot clear of England’s Nick Dougherty and fellow unheralded Australian Peter Wilson, who both opened with 65s, while Dougherty’s fellow European Tour Member Raphaël Jacquelin of France dropped a shot at the last for a 66 and fourth place in the co-sanctioned tournament between The European Tour and the Australasian Tour.

But the day belonged to Pike, who was a serious cricketer until the age of 16 and only played golf part-time, once a week, until a victory in the 2005 Queensland Amateur Championship saw him focus his attention full-time on the green instead of the crease.

The Australian, who qualified for this week's event, made the dream start to his round with an eagle at his opening hole, the 495 yard par five tenth. He added a birdie at the 14th for an outward nine of 33 before picking up a further stroke at the second.

He then finished his round in style with four consecutive birdies down the home straight, culminating with a 22 foot birdie putt at the ninth, his last, to equal the course record set in 2005 by fellow Australian Nick O'Hern.

"At my opening hole I hit driver,” he said. “It was the first shot of the day and it was a bit cold. I did not hit it the greatest. I had 174 metres to the pin and my caddie said where to hit it and I pulled it about ten feet. It was a bit of a miss-hit but a good miss-hit."

"Obviously I am delighted with my start but if you shoot 64 in the first round, realistically you can shoot it every day. I am not going to change anything or expect myself to win because I've got a 64. But we’ll see what happens.”

Joint second placed Dougherty was pleased with his start but admitted a little disappointment that his round had not been even better after the Englishman failed to pick up a stroke on the tenth like Pike and made bogeys on a pair of par threes - the 15th and the third.

"Apart from that I played lovely, I really did,” he said. “I drove the ball fantastically well and my iron play was world-class - it really was today, I didn't putt great but I made a couple of good ones on my back nine, so all-in-all, I'm very pleased.”

Six people shared fifth place on four under par 68 including two time Australian Open winner Aaron Baddeley and Spain’s Carl Suneson, who came through the Qualifying School – Final Stage at San Roque last week and who took full advantage of his first start on The 2007 European Tour International Schedule.

Five players shared 11th place after opening 69s including defending champion Robert Allenby and England’s Justin Rose, playing his first regular European Tour event outside the Major Championships since the South African Airways Open almost a year ago.

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