American Brooks Koepka continued his smooth transition into professional golf by taking a share of the first round lead in the Finnish Challenge thanks to a four under par 67.
Playing his fourth event since joining the paid ranks, Koepka set the benchmark at Kytäjä Golf in southern Finland, and was later joined by Englishman Matt Haines, Austrian Roland Steiner and Swede Bjorn Åkesson.
The 22 year old has had three sponsors’ invitations so far this season, and last week’s tied seventh place finish in the English Challenge earned him a ticket to Finland, the first stop of a three-leg swing in the Nordic region.
“It was great out there,” said Koepka. “I really didn’t have any chances to make a bogey today. The only disappointment was that I played the par fives in level par, but four under is a good start.
“Things are going well so far and I’m having a great time. I played in the US Open as an amateur and then came over to Europe and turned professional.
“I’ve played okay so far, and I’m just hoping to improve every week and get the hang of it. I decided to come to Europe because I just wanted to play, and this gives me the best opportunity to do that and prepare for the Qualifying School at the end of the year. That’s the main goal.”
Haines was also tied seventh at Stoke by Nayland last week, and he has been showing some promising form of late having returned to the Challenge Tour after a disappointing rookie season on The European Tour last year.
“I did everything very steadily today,” said the 22 year old. “I drove the ball well and didn’t miss many fairways. And my short putting was good, so I holed out nicely. When I hit it to about ten to 12 feet, I managed to hole a few birdie putts.
“The course is very different from most courses we’ve played this year. Usually they are short and tight, but this is long and quite open. It’s wet as well, so the ball is just stopping, which means it is playing even longer. I like it.
“I started the season very shakily, but the last few weeks I’ve been playing better, although I haven’t quite managed to finish it off at the weekend. I can’t complain about coming back to the Challenge Tour after the way I played last year, but it was still a bit of a comedown. I’m playing better now though, and hopefully I can build on it in the second half of the season.”
Åkesson is another player in form, having notched five top 20 finishes this season, and was delighted to grab a share of the lead with a birdie at the last.
“I bogeyed the 16th, so it was nice to get back to four under at the 18th,” he said. “I had five putts for the first five holes, so my short game was good. I like this course a lot and my game feels in great shape, so it should be a fun week.”
Steiner, who represented Austria in the Mission Hills World Cup last year alongside fellow Challenge Tour player Florian Praegant, made a flying start to the first round, carding five consecutive birdies from the 12th, but his progress was halted by a bogey at the turn.
He said: “I was playing really well and had a great start, but I made a stupid mistake on the 18th, my ninth, when I missed a putt from about 80cm.
“That stopped the flow and although I played well after that, I was not so confident on the greens. I missed two good chances at the first and second.
“I made a bad shot into the seventh which resulted in another bogey, but luckily I was able to finish well with a birdie at the last.”
Englishman Chris Gane opened with a three under par 67, while 12 players, including three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty, were another shot back at two under.