Ireland’s Peter Lawrie compiled a superb eight under par round of 64 to establish a one-shot lead on the opening day of the Sicilian Open.
The 38 year old, whose only European Tour victory to date came in Spain four years ago, came into the event having made only two cuts in six starts this season.
But Lawrie turned the form book on its head with nine birdies and a single bogey to establish a new course record at the stunning Verdura Golf Resort & Spa near Sciacca, Sicily.
Dane Søren Kjeldsen had held the course record after a round of 65 in the morning session, and the three-time European Tour winner was joined in a tie for second place on seven under par by Wales’ Jamie Donaldson and Argentina’s Tano Goya.
Asked what caused his sudden upturn in form, Lawrie said: “I don’t know really, probably just determination on my part.
“I’ve got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but perhaps this will give me the kick up the backside I need. It helped that I holed a few putts today, that was the biggest difference.
“I putted beautifully, especially on the front nine. I holed two 20 footers in a row, and I didn’t hole a single 20 footer for the entire season last year! So that really set the tone, because it makes you feel like you can hole anything. When I had a few chances coming in I managed to take them, and getting up and down for par on the last was very important.”
Donaldson, chasing a first European Tour win in his 249th event, had five birdies and an eagle at the par five 11th hole.
The Welshman’s confidence is riding high at the moment after finishing third last week in Morocco, where he closed with a round of 61.
“I played really well last week, and when you throw in a round like that the game does feel better, and the confidence does increase,” he said.
“The ball’s going where I want it to more often, and today followed in much the same vein. I waited patiently for the putts to drop, then when they did they didn’t stop! The eagle on 11 was a big boost, but I’d played the front nine well.”
Starting on the back nine, Kjeldsen turned in 32 thanks largely to an eagle at the par five 14th hole before holing a long putt from off the green for birdie at the par three third.
His only dropped shot of the day came at the fifth, but he got it straight back at the next, chipped out the bunker to two feet for birdie at the long seventh and finished with a 20 foot birdie at the ninth.
“I played very well,” said Kjeldsen, who finished fifth in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on his last European Tour start. “I haven’t played an official event since Dubai, where I played well. So it’s been a while, but fortunately the weather’s been good in London, so I’ve been able to practice a lot.
“My practice has been great, as it had been in Dubai, and I played well enough on my comeback at the Tavistock Cup last week. So I’m really pleased to have played as well as I did today, because my game felt like it did in Dubai, even though I hadn’t played much competitive golf since.”
Goya had four birdies in a row from the 15th, and having not win since his rookie season in 2009 the 23 year old is keen to enter the winners’ circle again.
“I feel like I’m playing pretty well at the moment,” he said. “Today was definitely a good step in the right direction, and if I can keep it going for the next three rounds, then I’ll have a chance. But there’s still a long way to go.”
Italian favourite Matteo Manassero birdied the ninth, his last, from ten feet for a level par 72, while two-time Major winner John Daly – playing with local hero Costantino Rocca, his victim at The Open Championship in 1995 – went one better with a 71.
Manassero said: “I didn’t expect to see a seven under on that course today, so that’s a really great round from Søren. Hopefully I can do the same tomorrow and get myself back into the tournament.
“Even though I didn’t play that well I was really determined – I didn’t want to leave any shots out there. I tried to make as many birdies as possible on the way home, and luckily I managed to do that.
“I was two over par for my round at one point, so to finish on level par was actually quite pleasing, and it gives me a little bit of confidence to take into the second round.”