Daniel Vancsik bounced back to form in spectacular fashion with an opening round of 65 – his lowest of the season – to lead the M2M Russian Challenge Cup by three shots.
In low temperatures and a stiff breeze in Moscow, Vancsik mastered the Jack Nicklaus-designed Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, which is perhaps the most demanding and almost certainly the most scenic course on the Challenge Tour Schedule.
Despite wet fairways which meant the course was playing even longer than its 7,491 yards, the Argentine somehow conjured up seven birdies in a flawless display to finish on seven under par, three strokes clear of England’s Sam Walker.
It was quite a return to form for Vancsik, who missed the cut at last week’s lucrative Kazakhstan Open after a wretched round of 79 on the opening day.
But the two-time European Tour champion spent the entire weekend on the range refining the new swing changes he has made under the tutelage of his coach, and the work paid due dividends as he compiled a round which he described as comfortably the best of his season.
Vancsik added: “I made a few changes with my swing last week and I feel a lot happier with it now, but I still didn’t expect to shoot a 65 today. My game is all about hitting my driver well, and today I managed to do that.
“I also holed a few long putts – the longest was from around 12 metres on the sixth hole, and then I chipped in for another birdie on the seventh. After that I played really, really well. I had three birdies in a row from the 14th hole, and also had two chances to make birdie on the 17th and 18th. But overall I have to be very happy with seven under par, because it’s a very tough course.
“It’s a great course, and also a very fair course. If you strike the ball well you can make some birdies, but you can also drop shots of you’re not quite on top of your game. The key to a good score here is getting through the holes after the turn without too much damage.
“On the 11th and 12th holes I hit a driver and four iron to the green, which shows you how long those holes are playing. The 13th hole is also a very tough par three, but after I made it through those holes without dropping any shots I was able to relax, and luckily I picked up a few shots on the way in. So I’m very happy.”
Walker, who played in the same group as former World Number One tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov, continued the fine form he had shown at last week’s Kazakhstan Open, where he finished in a tie for fifth place.
The Englishman is one of the biggest hitters on the Challenge Tour, and he used his length to good effect in a round of 68 which included just a solitary bogey at the testing seventh hole.
Walker immediately cancelled out that blemish with a birdie at the eighth hole, and picked up a further two shots after the turn to finish the first day of the €250,000 event on four under par.
He said: “It’s a good start. I played really nicely, and managed to birdie all four of the par fives, which was a massive bonus. I gave myself a lot of chances on the other holes too so I could’ve gone even lower, but it’s tough course – especially in the wind – so a 68 is still pretty good going. It wasn’t the perfect round by any means, but I got up and down when I had to, so all in all it was a very good day.
“It was great to play with Yevgeny, because he’s such great company. What he achieved in his tennis career is inspiring, and he knows what professional sport is all about. If I can be half as good a golfer as he was a tennis player, then I’ll be very happy.”
Walker’s compatriot Tommy Fleetwood also continued his rich vein of form with a round of 70 which moved him into a share of third place – albeit with the afternoon starters yet to finish their rounds.
The Kazakhstan Open champion’s bid to win back to back titles got off to a shaky start with a bogey at his opening hole, but he rallied in impressive style to finish on two under par alongside France’s Michael Lorenzo-Vera and Austrian Florian Praegant.
Praegant was three over for his round through 12 holes, but flew home with five birdies in his final six holes to complete a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes.