James Kingston (Getty Images)
James Kingston carded an eight under par 64 to lead after the first day of the Portugal Masters – but no fewer than 30 players were within three strokes of the South African's lead.
A brilliant run of seven birdies in eight holes was the highlight of the 45 year old’s round as Kingston took full advantage of glorious conditions at Oceânico Victoria Golf Course.
World Number Six Martin Kaymer had predicted before the tournament that low scoring would be the order of the day and that proved to be the case, with 96 players finishing the day under par.
Kingston is currently 67th in The Race to Dubai and can cement his place in the field for the season-ending Dubai World Championship with a good display on the Algarve.
And the two-time European Tour winner was particularly pleased with his display given that he had missed the cut on his last two outings by a single shot.
“I’ve been playing nicely,” he said. “Just reflecting on the last two weeks, I felt like I played really good golf - to miss both cuts by a shot feels sickening but that's part of the game.
“I just couldn't put the scores on the board and this week we have. Hopefully it changes from here on in.”
After a birdie at the fourth Kingston really came to life around the turn, birdieing five in a row from the eighth and carding further gains on the 14th and 15th.
And a bogey at the 16th was followed by a 20 foot birdie on the final hole.
“I felt like I could have done a little better earlier in the round, then all of a sudden I made one or two and my tail got in the air,” he added.
“I hit some really good iron shots pretty close - five in a row which is nice and then another few coming in.
“I think tee to green I'm hitting it really solid. I'm not making too many mistakes and the moment I get the putting going it changes the scoreboard, and that's what I've got to keep doing.”
Five players were one behind Kingston overnight – amongst them in-form Dane Thomas Björn.
He was joined by England’s Simon Khan, Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin, Welshman Rhys Davies and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.
Björn, already a winner in Qatar, Scotland and Switzerland this season, turned in a brilliant 31 highlighted by a ten foot birdie putt at the 17th and picked up further shots at the second and third.
“I played nicely early on and rolled in a few good putts,” said Björn, who at seventh on The Race to Dubai is in line for a sizeable chunk of the $7,500,000 bonus pool. “It got a bit scruffy towards the end.”
Maybin chipped in at the 17th for one of eight birdies and the 31 year old is hoping to draw inspiration from the success of his compatriots.
Michael Hoey became the latest Ulsterman to enter the winner’s circle at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship two weeks ago, following the Major victories of Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke in the last 18 months.
“Obviously there’s a boom at the minute especially with Michael getting a great win at the Dunhill,” said Maybin, who at 110th on The Race to Dubai still has work to do to secure his card for next season.
“Someone tells me it’s the Guinness, but it’s a good crop of players and they’re shining at the minute.”
Wiesberger finished fifth on home soil last month to secure his card for next season, and like Kingston he is now chasing a place in the field for Dubai.
“I hope to find a lot of greens this week and for the rest of the season and hole a couple of putts and give myself a chance to get into Dubai,” he said.
Davies and Khan’s rounds were all the more impressive given they came in the afternoon session once the breeze was up, and both men had eagles on their cards.
Former BMW PGA Championship winner Khan holed a lob wedge for a two at the fourth, while Davies sunk a 25 foot putt at the penultimate hole.
Kaymer shot a 67 to be in a share of 16th on five under.