Austrian Florian Praegant and Portugal’s Ricardo Santos set the clubhouse target on three under par in the early stages of the inaugural Gujarat Kensville Challenge.
Both players posted four birdies and a solitary bogey on the opening day of the €200,000 event, which marks not only the start of the 2011 Challenge Tour season but also the Tour’s first visit to India.
Despite temperatures peaking at 30 degrees at the Jeev Milka Singh-designed Kensville Golf Club in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, Santos remained cool to hit 16 greens in regulation in his round of 69.
Santos’ first gain came at the fourth hole, where he hit a nine iron to four feet and rolled in the putt. That birdie was soon cancelled out by his only blemish of the day at the next hole, where he three-putted from long range.
But the 28 year old made amends after the turn, running up successive birdies on the 12th and 13th holes courtesy of putts from three and ten feet respectively.
Another birdie on the 16th hole, where he pitched his seven iron to ten feet, saw Santos come home in 33 to join Praegant in a share of the lead.
He said: “My driving was the key to my round today – I was excellent off the tee, which took a lot of pressure off my irons. My putting was also decent – I had 32 putts, which wasn’t bad going because the greens here are obviously very hard with the sun.
“The course is in good condition, especially considering the fact that it’s only three years old. It’s a tough course, but I enjoyed playing it. Having made a good start, hopefully I can now keep it going over the next three days.”
Like Santos, Praegant also took advantage of the shorter back nine to join the Portuguese player at the top of the leaderboard.
After turning in one over par the Austrian must have feared the worst, but he stormed back with birdies at the tenth, 12th, 14th and 15th holes to surge through the field.
He said: “The course is in great shape, except maybe for one or two of the greens, which are a touch firm. It’s a tough course with lots of out of bounds, so you have to keep it straight, especially off the tee. Luckily I managed to keep the ball in play all day.
“I played some good golf today, and didn’t really miss any of the birdie chances I created. I want to take it round by round and not put too much pressure on myself, but it’s always important to get off to a good start and I’m glad I’ve managed to do that.”
Experienced Swede Klass Eriksson, five times a winner on the Challenge Tour, is one shot back on two under par after compiling four birdies and one bogey in his round of 70.
He was joined on that mark by fellow Scandinavians Mads Vibe-Hastruup and Espen Kofstad, who after starting on the tenth hole reached the turn in four under par but undid some of his good work with a double bogey at the first hole.
Of the early morning starters, the only other players to finish under par were Eriksson’s compatriot Bjorn Akesson and Scotland’s Ross Bain, who both signed for rounds of 71.
Of the home contingent, it was Gaganjeet Bhullar who was making the most headway, notching four birdies and a solitary bogey in his opening 12 holes to race into a share of the lead with six holes of his round still left to play.