Christian Nilsson produced a flawless performance at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club to grab the lead in the first round of The Russian Open Golf Championship.
The 28 year old Swede carded seven birdies and no dropped shots in an excellent 65 to lead the way by a shot from Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet with Ireland’s Gary Murphy and England’s Sam Little a further shot behind in a share of third place after their 67s.
Starting on the back nine of the Moscow course, Nilsson’s only birdie returns came at the two par fives, the 15th and 17th, but turning for home he broadened his assault and recorded gains at the second, third and fourth, as well as also at the eighth and ninth.
The birdie at the ninth hole was particularly memorable considering he drove into a fairway bunker but produced an explosive escape shot with his pitching wedge to 25 feet from where he holed out.
“I am very pleased with that, he said. “I hit most of the greens and fairways and played very steadily. I made a few putts as well so it was a great round for me.
“I’ve played all right recently and had a few good starts with a few good first rounds but I fell back a couple of times. But it feels all right at the moment.”
One of those good starts came in last month’s Open de France ALSTOM where he lay in a share of third after an opening 66 but eventually finished outside the top 50. However, should he continue in similar form over the next three days, he should expect a greater yield from this week’s event.
Second placed Gonnet continued to show his increasing confidence in the ranks of The European Tour with a six under par 66, a round which featured only one dropped shot – a three putt at the tenth – but seven birdies elsewhere, including three in a row from the 15th.
“I’ve been playing well now for the past three weeks or so,” said the former Challenge Tour player. “I was 26th last week in the Deutsche Bank tournament in Germany and made a double bogey on the final hole so I feel very confident with my game at the moment.
“I think things are going in the right direction for me. I have done some hard work with my coach recently and it is paying off. I also have a bit more experience of playing out here on The European Tour and that helps a lot, combined with hard work.”
Third placed Murphy did well in the event last year, finishing in a share of third only five shots adrift of eventual champion Alejandro Cañizares, and gave himself the chance to improve on that with a tidy opening 67.
Like leader Nilsson, the Irishman was flawless in his first round, carding birdies at the first, sixth, 12th, 13th and 17th holes.
“I actually played okay last week (in the Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe where he finished 77th of the 79 players who made the cut) but just holed nothing and that reflected in my score, I was probably last in the putting stats. But I holed out nicely today and three more rounds like that would be nice.
“This course has been good to me over the years but I did get very unlucky in the last round last year but that is golf, you have to just take it on the chin and keep ploughing away. Everyone involved here has been very good to the Tour so it is nice to come back.”
Alongside Murphy on 67 was England’s Sam Little, the highlight of the 31 year old Londoner’s round being a run of three birdies in a row from the tenth.
While the above quartet, who completed their rounds in the morning, had no problems with the weather, the afternoon starters at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club were not so fortunate.
Torrential rain for the best part of two hours forced a suspension of play at 4.30pm local time after most of the fairways and bunkers flooded. After sterling work by the greenkeeping staff, play restarted at 7.45pm, meaning a total of three hours and 15 minutes play was lost.
Obviously, it meant not all the first round play was able to be completed, the remaining players required to return at 8.00am on Friday morning to complete before turning around to begin their second round, weather permitting, on time.