François Delamontagne attributed his upturn in fortunes to a change of coach after posting a superb round of 66 on the opening day of the ECCO Tour Championship hosted by Thomas Björn & Mercedes-Benz.
The Frenchman is now under the tutelage of Benoit Ducolombier, who also coaches his compatriot Grégory Havret, and the intensive practice sessions the pair have recently undertaken paid off in spectacular fashion with a vastly improved display at Stensballegaard Golf in Horsens, Denmark.
The 33 year old from Rennes has endured a wretched campaign this year, missing ten cuts from 12 appearances on the Challenge Tour, but rediscovered the form of his halcyon days on The European Tour with eight birdies – five of them in his last six holes.
That saw Delamontagne, playing in the first group of the day, set the pace on six under par, one stroke clear of Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen, who opened with a crowd-pleasing round of 67.
Delamontagne said: “It took me a while to wake up, because it was an early start this morning! But the conditions were perfect first thing because there was hardly any breeze, so the course was probably playing as easy as it’s going to get this week and I managed to take advantage.
“Yesterday I worked on my short game and my putting with my new coach, and today I was much better on and around the greens. We started working together at the Open de France – I decided to change because I’ve had so many troubles over the last two years so I just wanted to try something different, and hopefully today was a real turning point for me.
“It’s slowly getting better, although my driving today was still very hit and miss. I hit one or two very good drives, but also one or two very bad ones. Fortunately the fairways are quite wide out there, but if you do find the rough it’s very thick, so I’m going to have to do some practice with my driver.
“But overall I’m pretty pleased with how I played, because I’ve really needed some confidence and hopefully I’ve found some. It’s been a tough season, but that was much more like it and hopefully now I can start having bigger aims than just making the cut.”
Hansen has fared rather better this season, recording comfortably the best performance of his fledgling Challenge Tour career with a runner-up finish at the Double Tree by Hilton Acaya Open in July, and the Dane continued his encouraging run of form with five birdies and an eagle three on the par five tenth hole, where he chipped in.
The 21 year old, who celebrates his birthday on Saturday, was particularly happy with his short game, having holed out twice from off the green and made several putts from long range.
He said: “I hardly made any mistakes and struck the ball really well. My short game’s normally pretty good and today it was very good, which it has to be out there because there are run-off areas on quite a few holes. The greens are also very tricky because there are lots of slopes, so you have to be very precise with your approach shots or you leave yourself with some very long and difficult putts.
“But luckily my irons were solid today and even when I did get out of position on the greens, I managed to recover. So it was a good day, and it was nice to have some support out there. I have lots of friends and family here Copenhagen, so it was nice to play well for them.”
England’s James Busby, who mixed six birdies with two bogeys, was next best on four under par.
Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg, seeking an unprecedented third successive Challenge Tour title, was poised to join Busby in a tie for third, only for a double bogey seven on his closing hole to ruin an otherwise impressive display.
A similar fate befell Frenchman Charles-Edouard Russo, who raced to five under par with birdies on the fourth, seventh, eighth, 12th and 13th holes, but closed with three successive bogeys to drop back to two under par.
Included in the group on three under par is Denmark’s Andreas Hartø, a winner of this tournament as an amateur two years ago.
Three-time European Tour champion Nick Dougherty of England, meanwhile, faces an uphill battle to make the 60-man cut after signing for a two over par round of 74 which included a triple bogey eight at the ninth hole.